El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic opens to increase access to medical treatment for weight loss

From left,  research coordinator Erica Martinez; nurse practitioner Athena Nathan; director Leah Whigham, PhD ; and clinical lab director Juan Aguilera, MD, PhD, MPH. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)
From left, research coordinator Erica Martinez; nurse practitioner Athena Nathan; director Leah Whigham, PhD ; and clinical lab director Juan Aguilera, MD, PhD, MPH. (Photo by UTHealth Houston)

El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic of UTHealth Houston School of Public Health has opened its doors to help patients and providers in the Paso del Norte region with comprehensive clinical weight loss support through evidence-based medical treatments and training.

This new clinic will be an important resource for community members and health care providers as it honors the unique ethnic and cultural makeup of the community it will serve. The new clinic was launched by the Center for Community Health Impact (CCHI) in El Paso, part of the School of Public Health.

In addition to providing much-needed comprehensive obesity management, the clinic will serve as a training ground for regional primary care providers, who will have access to innovative tools built through grant-funded research projects led by Leah Whigham, PhD, director of CCHI and associate professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at the school’s location in El Paso.

The prevalence of obesity is increasing, and addressing obesity scientifically can help prevent or delay the onset of serious related conditions. Obesity is classified as a disease — a dysregulation of how calories are stored in the body. Obesity is often misunderstood as insufficient motivation or willpower, rather than a medical condition that needs clinical treatment, Whigham said. 

The needs in the Paso del Norte region are especially high.

“Over 75% of adults in El Paso have a weight that puts them at increased risk for obesity-related diseases,” Whigham said. “We have higher rates of death due to conditions like diabetes and liver disease than the rest of Texas or the U.S. El Paso needs a resource to help people achieve healthier weights and live healthier lives.”

The clinic was designed with three key purposes: a resource for the community, a resource for allied health students and health care providers, and a driver of cutting-edge research in the region. Along with evidence-based medical treatments, it will include related nutritional support, increased access to research studies, and information and classes to support better health.

This is the first clinical partnership that includes the School of Public Health, Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston, and UT Physicians, the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

“Thanks to the flexibility and persistence of all partners, we have demonstrated what can be accomplished with teamwork,” Whigham said. The clinic will use the Epic electronic health record system, which links it to other health care entities around the world for continuity of care.

Athena Nathan, DNP, who will treat patients, has advanced training in the clinical management of obesity. Brett Perkison, MD, MPH, will also provide patient care support.

“I begin every new patient appointment by asking them to tell me about their weight loss journey. I listen to what they have learned about their body, and then apply the latest obesity science to help them build a plan that meets their needs as we work together toward helping them achieve a healthier weight,” Nathan said.

The clinic has the infrastructure to conduct clinical trials in El Paso that can lead to discoveries and development of new treatment approaches for obesity. The El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic and the School of Public Health in El Paso are located in the headquarters of the Medical Center of the Americas (MCA), which is committed to increasing clinical trial activity across the Paso del Norte region as part of its mission to cultivate a dynamic biomedical industry. Whigham serves on MCA’s Clinical Trials Consortium, which is working to expand and accelerate the region’s infrastructure and competitiveness in clinical research and innovation.

“A robust clinical trial infrastructure is important for our community because it increases access to innovative health care, advances research that is tailored to our community’s unique needs, and drives economic growth through research grants and health care innovation. The establishment of the El Paso Nutrition and Healthy Weight Clinic is a great addition to our regional clinical trials infrastructure,” said Michaele Linden-Johnson, MBA, senior director of Clinical Trials & Business Development at MCA.

The clinic is open at 5130 Gateway Blvd E, Suite 110, in El Paso. For more information, patient appointments, and provider referrals and training, go to www.communityhealthimpact.org, or contact Erica Martinez at 915-975-8527, or [email protected].

For media inquiries: 713-500-3030

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Contact the Center for Community Health Impact | 915-975-8527 | [email protected]