About 70% of Americans are currently overweight — have a body mass index (BMI) in excess of 25 — and 42% are obese (have a BMI in excess of 30).
Excess weight is associated with developing many chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke. The National Institutes of Health reports that adults with severe obesity are more likely to die prematurely from cancer, diabetes or heart disease when compared to healthy adults of the same age.
There are more than 200 diseases and 13 types of cancer directly linked to excess weight, and COVID-19 is the latest addition to the ever-growing list of illnesses caused by obesity.
There is a substantial increase in health care costs associated with the treatment of obesity. In 2015, 8% of health care spending went toward obesity-related illness, a dramatic increase of 29% between 2001 and 2015.
More than half of the people with excess weight reported being stigmatized by their coworkers. It is the second most common form of discrimination reported by women. Public education is critical to ensure that people struggling with excess weight are treated equally with respect and empathy.
The most significant barrier to treatment is the lack of consistent and comprehensive coverage for obesity management. Many insurance companies deny the most basic treatment for obesity, stating it as a “non-covered service” or a “plan exclusion.” Medicare still has the most outdated plan for obesity treatment.
Providing evidence-based medical treatment is a safe and effective way to tackle this disease. Despite many FDA-approved anti-obesity medicines in our toolbox, many (including physicians) shy away from them. While it is not uncommon to treat high blood pressure or cholesterol caused by obesity in a heartbeat, there is a great deal of resistance to anti-obesity medications.
Every dollar spent on the prevention of obesity generated more than a six-fold economic return. Implementing evidence-based prevention strategies involving public health organizations and local communities will help disseminate preventive measures effectively.
A simple “eat less, work more” rule will not work for a chronic and complex disease like obesity. Access to affordable care, enabling scientifically proven treatments, dispelling the misconceptions and, more importantly, showing empathy will empower those struggling with weight to tip the scale in their favor.
Passing the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act will bring a monumental shift in expanding access to affordable treatment coverage for Medicare beneficiaries. If we do not act now, about 50% of our population will be obese by 2030!
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