It’s time we treated obesity as the medical condition it is

It’s time we treated obesity as the medical condition it is

It’s time we treated obesity as the medical condition it is

Most wellness programs focus on diet and exercise to help people lose weight. They may work—for a while. For lasting change? Try a medical approach.

Rekha Kumar, MS, MD
Last updated:
February 27, 2023
5 min read
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Obesity is a disease that should be treated like we treat other chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. That’s our mission—and it’s why Found Health is a sponsor of Obesity Care Week 2023 (OCW2023), February 27-March 3.

Approaching obesity as a disease is how wellness programs and employers can make a significant difference in helping people manage their weight: It puts treatment for obesity in the same place where they tend to meet their other health care needs. 

This is no small thing: Positioning weight care with other aspects of health care—such as mammograms, colonoscopy screenings, and bone density scans—helps people with obesity and excess weight feel seen in a more compassionate way. And placing weight care in that same package creates a more holistic way of taking care of their health that doesn’t just have to do with the number on the scale.

So here’s how employers and wellness programs can provide support that’s empathetic and medically backed:

1. Understand the nature of obesity.

What providers and employers should know about obesity is that an estimated 40 to 80 percent of our body weight is not under our control. Instead, our genetics, our biology, our hormones, our environment, and even the medications we take affect much of our body weight.

Employers and health care systems know obesity is expensive: a company of 1,000 employees pays an estimated $277,000 every year, including related health care costs and lost productivity due to obesity-related absenteeism.

Many wellness programs focus on calorie tracking to manage weight, and yet there’s been little change in the nation’s obesity rates or the related costs. It’s time for a new approach: One that treats obesity as a disease that requires evidence-based, comprehensive care.

2. Develop empathy among health care providers, the wellness team, and in the company culture. 

When you explain that obesity is a disease (and not a personal failing) to people, it helps remove some of the bias and shame around weight and leads to a positive path forward. People with obesity face negative experiences and stigma at the doctor’s office far too often—which is proven to lead to worse health outcomes. The reason why is two-fold: Data show patients with obesity or excess weight avoid going to a doctor (who wants a dose of shaming during a wellness visit?), and physicians are known to dismiss health concerns as being due to obesity when there may be another condition or underlying cause.

The thing is, weight isn't just about diet and exercise. Lifestyle is an important piece, but it’s not the biggest piece! And when you understand that and can share that information in an empathetic way, it can lead to some positive, meaningful changes.

Empathy isn’t just an expression of compassion—it can be practical, too. Companies can make sure insurance plans cover treatment for obesity, as for other chronic diseases. Human resources can make sure there is pay equity for people with obesity, who are paid less and promoted less often because of weight bias. For in-office staff, ergonomics, and seating can help people feel better physically, support their sense of belonging, and encourage productivity. Using people-first language—such as “people with obesity” instead of “obese people” or “fat people”—puts a subtle yet important emphasis on the person and their humanity, not the disease or the person’s appearance.  

3. Offer an individualized, integrative weight care program.

At Found, we’ve built the largest medically-supported weight care clinic in the United States. Our comprehensive, evidence-based solution combines prescription medicine (for those who are eligible) with a behavior change program designed by psychologists and behavioral scientists, and access to professional health coaches.

4. Provide—and encourage giving—social support. 

Loneliness and isolation can cause or worsen health issues. On the flip side, social support is proven to improve health outcomes by offering motivation, encouragement, and information people need.  Unfortunately, it’s common for people with obesity to experience isolation and bias at work, at home, and at the physician’s office. Because obesity is a progressive and chronic condition, weight care is, at the least, a long-term—if not lifelong—journey that is easier with friendly support. Just having someone to walk with or celebrate small wins with can be a second wind—and part of a longer-term relationship.

Because social support is such a critical element for wellness, Found offers members an in-app community where members can connect with others on a weight care journey to share their non-scale victories, challenges, advice, and motivation. 

The truth is that the root of everyone’s obesity is not the same, and there are many different options for treating patients. So there’s no one coaching program, diet, or medical approach that will work for everybody. But by individualizing treatment and acknowledging that each person's condition is unique and requires different interventions, from diet and exercise to medicine, treatment can be individualized so employees can achieve sustainable weight loss. And that’s important information for all providers and employers to know.

About Obesity Care Week

Obesity Care Week is an annual public awareness event supported by over 100 health organizations and leaders in 70 countries around the world. OCW2023 Champions and Partners stand together to acknowledge obesity as a complex, chronic, recurring disease. Despite extensive research and studies, stigma and misperceptions continue to negatively shape the way people with obesity are treated medically and generally within society. OCW2023 aims to strengthen the relationship between a patient and their health care provider by encouraging open, empathetic and evidence-based conversations about weight and health. To learn more about Obesity Care Week and sign up for alerts, visit ObesityCareWeek.org.

About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
February 27, 2023
Meet the author
Rekha Kumar, MS, MD
Chief Medical Officer

Sources

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