NJ Preteen Finds Confidence With Weight Management Program   

NJ Preteen Finds Confidence With Weight Management Program

Alanna Coelho

February 23, 2023

As the United States began hearing rumblings about COVID-19 in winter 2020, Michelle Coelho of Sayreville, New Jersey, was focused on a different health concern closer to home. Her 11-year-old daughter, Alanna, was putting on weight even though she wasn’t filling up on junk food. Her legs and upper body were skinny but her midsection kept expanding.

With a family history of thyroid disease and diabetes, Michelle was concerned about her daughter’s unexplained weight gain. “We noticed that no matter what she ate—even if it was healthy—the weight kept coming,” Michelle says. At school, Alanna was bullied for being overweight. Each day Alanna returned home from school, she was in tears.

Michelle brought Alanna to see her pediatrician, who ran tests to check for conditions that could explain the weight gain. Nothing came up. Alanna kept a log of her food intake, changed her plate size and started going to the local YMCA to exercise. When Alanna’s body mass index (BMI) crept over the 95th percentile—and nothing she had tried to reduce her weight worked—her pediatrician recommended she see a hormone specialist.

Insulin Resistance Discovery 

When Michelle Maresca, M.D., a pediatric endocrinologist at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack University Medical Center who also specializes in obesity medicine and leads the Healthy Futures weight-management program, met Alanna, she suspected her weight gain was due to insulin resistance. “There’s a lot more to obesity than just an imbalance of calories in versus calories out,” Dr. Maresca says. “In the majority of children who have extra weight, it’s more common than not to have insulin resistance.”

Insulin resistance happens when the body’s cells do not respond normally to insulin. This resistance increases the risk of developing diabetes. People can be insulin-resistant without being overweight, but insulin resistance can make it more difficult to stabilize weight, even when lifestyle modifications are made, Dr. Maresca says.

Since Alanna had made a number of lifestyle modifications, Dr. Maresca recommended she start taking a self-injectable medication that regulates appetite.

The medication’s side effects of nausea and stomach pains were rough at first, but over time they went away, Michelle says. Still, using a pen to inject yourself every day wasn’t something a preteen was thrilled to do. When she got tired of doing it, she stopped taking the injections and the results were quickly noticeable—Alanna started looking bloated.

Healthy Relationship With Food 

Alanna now faithfully injects herself every other day and is on a low-maintenance dose. At her heaviest, she weighed 180 pounds. She’s now 125 pounds at age 13. The bullying at school has stopped. With that emotional pain gone from her daily life, and the help of therapy and the weight loss, “there’s a big change in the way she feels about herself,” Michelle says.

Alanna has begun playing field hockey and loves it. She has become more social and outgoing. When her older sister, Sevanna, was also diagnosed with insulin resistance, Alanna became her cheerleader and coach, helping the 17-year-old get used to the injections and serving as a model of the improvements that come with time. “It’s definitely brought them closer,” says their mother. “On days when Sevannah gets discouraged, Alanna will say, ‘Come on. We’re doing this together.’”

The focus for Alanna now is to maintain a healthy weight as well as a healthy relationship with food. “At this point, it’s not so much about what the numbers on the scale are showing,” says Dr. Maresca. “She’s happy with how she looks, and she’s balanced that with not being afraid to have a treat every now and then.”

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.



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