Uma K. Pisharody, MD,FAAP
As a pediatrician, I consider myself one of the luckiest people on earth. I have the great fortune of having a career working with children and families.
Learning about vitamins and minerals while I attended medical school in India, I was fascinated by the impact nutrition had on the human body. At the time, I was seeing how starvation, famine and undernutrition affected the communities I served. I decided to become a pediatrician, hoping one day, to have an impact on the world around me, and improve the lives of the children I served.
Fast forward about three decades, and ironically, I am still treating malnutrition, but of a different sort: the kind that comes from decades of over access to poor quality ultra-processed foods, sold under the guise of food.
When choosing to become a pediatrician, I never imagined my day-to-day practice would deal with “adult diseases” like morbid obesity or liver cirrhosis or high blood pressure. Little did I realize that my career as a pediatric gastroenterologist would propel me to the forefront of fighting the war against obesity and metabolic syndrome.
It all started at the beginning of my career as a pediatric gastroenterologist in Seattle, WA, as I began to treat increasing numbers of children with NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease), now considered the most common chronic liver disease in the world, even in kids.
You see, NAFLD and children with Type 2 diabetes were unheard of when I was growing up! I also didn’t learn anything about these conditions in medical school, let alone during my residency in general pediatrics, and had just barely started to hear about them as did completed my training in gastroenterology. I recall that it was around the time that I became a board-certified pediatric gastroenterologist in 2009, that I began encountering more and more kids with the disease.
I literally remembering having to “Google” the words, “metabolic syndrome” (MetS) one day in 2007, because there was a vague mention that this chronic liver condition could somehow be related. However, I read with mostly disbelief, not able to bring myself to recognize that MetS, a condition that I only knew could lead to heart attacks for adults, could possibly be present in my pediatric patients!
You see, back then, just a mere 2 decades or so ago, the medical community believed that obesity caused NAFLD. The adage was that kids just needed to cut back on calories and do more exercise. If they just ate less, and spent less time in front of the TV, they would cure their own liver disease! Of course, this advice never worked. And this is why, eventually, I got increasingly frustrated each time a child with NAFLD was referred to see me. Obviously, since I clearly misunderstood what caused the disease in the first place, no treatment I offered helped anyone feel better. Repeatedly telling little children to eat less and exercise more only led to utter frustration for everyone!
And then one day, I was introduced to the work of renowned pediatric neuroendocrinologist, Dr. Robert H. Lustig. As I watched him lecture on the hepatotoxic effects of fructose, I finally realized I could help my patients in a decisive and meaningful way! The very next week, I asked a child with NAFLD to forget the traditional “diet and exercise” plan, and to do just one thing: to remove sugar from his diet. He did this, returned in 2 weeks, and I can still vividly recall my utter shock and amazement, when, for the first time in my career, the liver test results in a child with NAFLD had improved! And from then onwards, I knew I had to learn more and do better.
I’m ashamed that I didn’t learn more about this in medical school, nor during residency or fellowship. It’s taken a lot of self-reflection, learning from years of mistakes (both personal and professional) to help me finally come to understand how good food is truly the best medicine. Children shouldn’t have to deal with adult diseases. We can and will do better moving forward! This is what Resilience is all about. It’s about medical professionals joining with the community to prevent, treat, and reverse diet and lifestyle-driven diseases in children.
The Resilience team, a group of physicians, nurses, dietitians, and other medical professionals, are passionately inviting you to join us cook our way to better health!
Please share in our journey towards better health and nutrition together, making real food the easy choice. Let’s form an influential community that cooks together, shares good meals, good stories, and good science as we teach our children the power of wholesome, healthy eating.