What is your research? What got you into the research that you are doing?
I started out wanting to be a general practitioner in pediatrics and follow families and children through their life. However, I ended up working in behavioral weight control research for a few years after college, and while I still wanted to do general pediatrics I continued to be drawn back to questions raised by the research.
It was at that point I realized that I definitely help people beyond those I see as a physician in my practice through the research I do with obesity and diabetes prevention, primarily focused on kids and their health.
Why is this research important?
We think puberty may be important time period in terms of risk for diabetes and are trying to figure out if that’s the case because we don’t really know. Puberty is a high risk time for kids who are already at risk for diabetes, so it’s a good time in their lives to prevent it as much as possible.
The interesting thing is, all kids become insulin resistant in puberty; this is normal. This helps them go through the growth spurts in puberty. Insulin helps with blood sugar, but it also is a growth factor. So although the blood sugar activity of insulin may go down during puberty, we think more insulin goes toward growth factor activity, which is important in puberty when you are growing faster. When healthy kids are going through puberty, they can make more insulin and are growing so that’s okay. But obese kids may not make enough insulin to compensate because of their obesity, then that may lead to early diabetes.
We are trying to understand what this means, and also in terms of sex differences between boys who are overweight (who tend to start puberty late and have low testosterone) and girls who are overweight (who are the opposite, starting puberty earlier).
The factor relating this to women’s health is that although diabetes in kids is rare, two-thirds who do develop diabetes as teenagers are girls, so it is much more common in girls than boys and could be directly related to puberty.
What are your hopes and dreams for your research?
To find ways to better target early prevention of diabetes, by treating kids at risk for diabetes while they are going through puberty.
How could we report on your work in a way that could be understood and valued by the general public?
Reaching out to community groups for kids in this field of study to engage both kids and parents.
To learn more about the BIRCWH program at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, click here: