likes to joke that divine intervention led her to work on obesity.
It happened when she was a graduate student at Loyola University New Orleans. Alleman’s research partner demanded she make a decision about what to focus on for an upcoming presentation. Alleman, stressed from coursework, replied: “I don’t know? Child abuse? Maybe childhood obesity? That’s got to be easy, right?’”
Whether it was divine intervention or sheer fate, Alleman continues to work on childhood obesity years after completing that class assignment. Now the PreventObesity.net Leader is undertaking interventions of her own by educating Texans about obesity prevention and weight loss.
Alleman serves as the Austin area manager for RediClinic
, a healthcare clinic located in H-E-B grocery stores
in Texas. The clinics offer walk-in treatments for common ailments such as ear infections and the common cold, and also provide vaccinations and routine physicals. But Alleman sees the clinics as an avenue to educate an overlooked segment of the population about obesity.
“They’re coming in for a sinus infection, or allergies or a sore throat. But we get to begin that dialogue with them at that visit,” Alleman says. “To me, that’s the key to start getting it on people’s minds… We begin this dialogue with people who haven’t had this discussion with doctors.”
Alleman works with clinic physicians to educate their patients about the importance of a healthy diet and exercise, as well as introduce them to a specialized 10-week program at the clinic designed to help them lose weight. Many of the people who visit grocery store clinics come because they don’t have a primary physician of their own. Others aren’t aware of the dangers of obesity because nobody has ever talked to them about it.
Starting a dialogue about obesity is especially important for parents who are treated at the clinic, Alleman notes. Many moms and dads simply don’t realize that giving their kids soda or sugar-sweetened juices can lead to obesity because they haven’t been educated about it, Alleman says.
“You start having these discussions with people that previously never happened,” she says.
Many children visit the clinic with their parents for vaccinations, and that provides another opportunity for physicians to also chat about the importance of preventive care through proper nutrition and exercise. Sometimes, it is just showing parents that small changes can make a big difference, Alleman says.
“They [think] it has to be all arugula and hummus. They have these ideas that eating healthy or losing weight is going to have to require vast monumental changes,” she says. “I explain, ‘No, it’s going to take little changes over time.’”
Alleman came to RediClinic from a research position at Louisiana State University, where she studied rates of obesity at the university’s pediatric center. Her findings were troubling, as she discovered that 59 percent of six-year-old girls who visited the clinic were overweight or obese.Not all of Alleman’s work in Louisiana was so dire, however. While working on obesity prevention in Baton Rouge, she met a New Orleans taxi driver who weighed about 450 pounds, and Alleman offered to help him lose weight.
“He told me, ‘You’re the first person in my life who has ever talked to me about my weight, and I’ve been like that since I was a kid,’” Alleman recalls, adding that the man committed to a nutrition and exercise program to lose weight. He even drove the hour-and-a-half drive regularly from New Orleans to Baton Rouge to check in, she remembers.
During one visit, he told Alleman that he played basketball with his 11-year-old son — for the first time.
“You can’t measure that. You can’t pay me for that,” she says. “You’re going to help people dance at their daughter’s wedding. You’re going to help people be functional for their families.”
Alleman hopes to achieve the same type of transformation when working at the clinics. Retail spots like RediClinic have only been around for about a decade, but their potential to influence vulnerable populations is immense, Alleman says.
While at LSU, Alleman wanted to create a healthy living clinic that would bring families together to get healthy. The only problem was convincing people that they need to come to the clinic — and when people don’t know that they have a problem, why would they look for a solution?
That’s where retail clinics can help. They serve people who aren’t otherwise in the health care system, and can begin a conversation with families that likely wouldn’t have anywhere else.
“Creating a legacy that creates healthy communities, that’s my passion,” she says. “Creating something that can outlive you, that’s what matters.”