Health Care Dive shared that obesity is often seen as being a result of poor lifestyle choices, lack of motivation, or unhealthy habits – but experts say that isn’t always the case. And it’s stigma and assumptions like these that continue to create barriers that have limited better obesity care.
“Obesity has been recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association for nearly a decade. Despite this, we are still seeing most treatment approaches for obesity focus solely on behavioral therapy,” said Nadia Nazir Ahmad, MD, MPH medical director, obesity product development, Eli Lilly and Company. “There are more than 650 million people living with obesity worldwide – including 40 percent of U.S. adults. Many of them have attempted lifestyle change, but not all have experienced adequate or sustainable results. Given this, it’s important that we not only research and develop new anti-obesity medicines but also uncover the barriers surrounding the broader use of them.”
The Reality of Living with Obesity
Obesity is a chronic and progressive disease. People living with obesity have an increased risk of developing other health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, diabetes, and some cancers.
“Solely focusing on behavioral changes as a treatment for obesity can fuel the misperception that the responsibility largely rests with people living with the disease, which could be physically and mentally detrimental to them,” said Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition. “Further, it also neglects individuals whose lifestyle choices aren’t necessarily the underlying cause of their obesity and can ultimately drive up costs of care for obesity and related conditions.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the estimated annual cost associated with obesity-related medical care in the United States alone was $147 billion in 2008. A 2019 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine also showed obesity disproportionately affects people of color and is predicted to become the most common BMI category among low-income adults.
“While behavioral therapy is an important aspect of developing an obesity treatment plan, it doesn’t address the full picture,” said Julia Dunn, senior medical advisor, Eli Lilly, and Company. “It’s important to recognize that obesity can also be treated effectively with drug therapy. Therefore, physicians must dive deeper to determine if individuals could benefit from anti-obesity medicines, which may give them a better chance to improve overall health outcomes.”
Collectively, the biases and misperceptions slow diagnosis and appropriate care. Coupled with comorbidities, delayed diagnosis, limited use of available evidence-based treatments and the progressive nature of the disease cause people with obesity to suffer premature mortality, lower quality of life, exposure to higher care costs and premature mortality. Accumulatively, according to one estimate, not treating obesity as a serious chronic disease results in total costs of over a trillion dollars.