Organizations joining The Obesity Society in this effort include the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the Academy), American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), and the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance.
“Obesity is not the same in every person. There is a variability in response to all treatments for the disease. Similar to treating cancer, we need to approach the disease using multi-modal therapy to achieve the best long-term treatment of obesity. This includes medication, surgery, endoscopy, lifestyle changes and behavioral health interventions,” said ASMBS President Teresa LaMasters, MD, FACS, FASMBS, DABOM.
OMA President Angela Fitch, MD, FACP, FOMA, further explains that there is a great deal of discussion surrounding the use of BMI to diagnose obesity. “Excess adipose tissue (body fat), particularly in certain locations of the body, is what contributes to the disease of obesity and its complications, and BMI alone should not be used to diagnose obesity,” Fitch explains.
The organizations are hopeful that the consensus statement proves valuable in correcting any misconceptions –such as societal blame placed upon the individual about this disease. “No statement or discussion about obesity is complete without recognizing the impacts bias and stigma about obesity and body weight have on both the health and quality of life of people living with obesity. Blame and shame are not solutions to the obesity epidemic. I’m encouraged by the unified effort to address obesity, recognizing that we must eliminate weight bias and stigma,” said OAC President/CEO Joseph Nadglowski.
In addition to its ability to reduce bias and stigma, the recognition of obesity as a disease by the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to the prevention and treatment of obesity is a critical step forward in the effort to expand access to evidence-based treatments for patients living with this disease.
“Access to care for people with chronic diseases such as obesity is one of our top priorities,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Ellen R. Shanley, MBA, RDN, CDN, FAND, the 2022-2023 president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Of particular importance to the Academy is access to intensive behavioral therapy from RDNs – the food experts. We individualize treatment strategies as part of an interdisciplinary care team of qualified providers to help patients meet their health goals.”
Any care plan for obesity begins with patients being treated with dignity and respect by health care providers who are knowledgeable in evidence-based treatment options. According to STOP, in a health care system with increasing stratification between the haves and have-nots, access to care must include adequate treatment coverage for all patients by insurance providers. To date, insurers have taken widely different approaches in determining which treatment services are covered for their members, resulting in great inequities in care, which is why STOP’s proposed Comprehensive Care Benefit should guide insurers through the development of coverage plans moving forward.
The six organizations are unified in their call to invite other health care organizations, medical institutions, practitioners, and advocates to join this effort by formally adopting the consensus statement and publicly acknowledging obesity as a disease. The six organizations plan to continue meeting to focus on building advocacy capabilities and resources; educating patients and policymakers; and conducting research.