As director of general pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey, Dr. Nwando Anyaoku treats children with a wide range of illnesses and conditions, but her specialty is childhood obesity. Her interest is both clinical and personal. “Growing up in Nigeria, I had asthma as a child,” she explains, “and it was not well controlled. I loved track and hurdles, but as I grew older, I became less and less active because of my asthma.”
Years later, as a practicing pediatrician in Newark, she found herself treating an ever-increasing number of overweight children. “I wondered if they were asthmatic and confronting the same challenges I did as a child. So I actually started out looking at asthma.” The more information she sought, it quickly became clear that childhood obesity was a nationwide epidemic. Asthma was often see alongside obesity. “I also realized that the sooner we get our hands around this issue, the better. And we need to start with the children so they don’t end up struggling with obesity and its consequences their whole lives.”
In 2006, she began building a multidisciplinary pediatric weight management program for children, named KIDSFIT Newark by her patients. Before she knew it, she was getting calls from parents, physicians and other health care practitioners who were looking for help and answers. “This confirmed there was a definite need for someone to begin addressing childhood obesity,” she says.
Over the years, this fight has become her life. Today, Dr. Anyaoku is a recognized expert in the field, sought out as a speaker and presenter. She has presented to the Academic Pediatric Association and has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, BBC World Radio and Ebru TV. In 2012 she received the American Hospital Association Nova Award for innovative collaborative efforts towards improving community health and wellness in recognition of KIDSFIT Newark.
She became co-director of NJPHK-Newark in 2009 attracted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s philosophy of focusing on policy and environmental change. “In our urban environment, it is difficult to make healthy choices,” she explains. “When we started our program, there was only one grocery store in the City of Newark. Today we are working with a total of 12 corner stores. Shifting policies and the environment has to be the central approach.”
Dr. Anyaoku comes from a family of engineers and teachers. The family joke was that her handwriting was so bad she would have to become a physician. Perhaps that made an impression because from she says “early on I knew I wanted to go to medical school.” And once there, “I learned my heart was pediatrics.”
She received her medical degree from the College of Medicine University of Nigeria and did a rotating internship in Trinidad and Tobago in the West Indies. Her interest in public health brought her to the U.S. to pursue a Master’s in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. She then worked in the public health field first as a public health consultant and later as a program director.
In 1997, she came to Newark as a pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. It was a good fit. She has been there ever since, serving as chief resident and then director, pediatric continuity clinic followed by director ambulatory pediatrics before receiving her current appointment.
In addition to her clinical and management duties, Dr. Anyaoku serves on multiple committees at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. She chairs the Wellness Subcommittee of the City of Newark Municipal Council’s Health Committee.
She is also an editorial board member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Healthy Active Living for Families initiative, an advisory Board Member to the Nestle–Newark Partnership to fight childhood obesity in Newark children, and a board member of Let’s Move Newark Youth Policy Board.SHARE: