Clinical Psychologist Tackles Childhood Obesity
Scientists know that diet and exercise are just part of the equation in the battle of the bulge. For those with morbid obesity, addressing behavioral responses, emotional eating and self-image are just as important to weight management. Meredith Lutz Stehl ‘00, a clinical psychologist at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, is providing age-appropriate treatment to pediatric patients who struggle with the social, as well as emotional, impact of obesity.
Meredith first became interested in childhood psychology as an undergraduate working with Professor Lauren Littlefield. She spent one summer conducting infant cognitive research at University of South Carolina. During a month-long internship funded by the Cater Society of Junior Fellows, Meredith worked in a diabetes research program at A.I. Dupont, one of the nation’s preeminent children’s hospitals. Based upon her involvement with adventure therapy programs at Echo Hill Outdoor School, Meredith focused her senior thesis on self-esteem and leadership.
With Dr. Littlefield’s mentorship, Meredith earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Drexel University, where she worked with children with sickle cell anemia and cancer. After a yearlong residency at A.I. DuPont in general clinical psychology, Meredith completed a two-year fellowship in pediatric oncology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Now in her third year of practice at A.I. DuPont, Meredith spends one day a week providing general child counseling services and works on behavioral and developmental issues among the under-five set. She spends the rest of the week as part of the weight management team there, helping children and their families make healthy lifestyle changes and cope with the emotional impact of being overweight. In addition to general weight management, the pediatric obesity clinic at A.I. DuPont offers an adolescent bariatric program; Meredith follows patients throughout the 8-to-12-month process of dropping as much as 100 pounds.
“In the weight management program, we take a healthy lifestyle approach so children and their families are able to make better food choices and become more physically active,” she says. “For a lot of kids I see, there are significant issues that can interfere with their ability to function at their best. Among those who seek treatment for childhood obesity, we see a higher rate of depression and anxiety. Many have isolated themselves because of their weight or other psychological issues. These children are not adept at sports, and they may be the target of bullying and teasing. It can be a slippery slope. Working as a team of physicians, nutritionists and psychologists, we can help children become healthier and more confident.”
Children with body mass indexes of 35 and above have significant health risks, including Type II diabetes, fatty liver disease, heart disease and polycystic ovary syndrome. The general weight management clinic sees over 100 children a week, while the adolescent band program currently has 80 patients enrolled in a trial that is being conducted with the FDA. A.I. Dupont’s pediatric obesity clinic has had “great success” in helping young patients make healthy lifestyle change and feel better about themselves.