My Turn: The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act is essential for compassionate, evidence-based obesity treatment

For the Monitor
Published: 9/22/2021 7:01:02 AM

The COVID-19 pandemic has stretched our country thin medically, socially and economically. Our hospitals have struggled as they work diligently to stock the constant needs of medication, PPE, ventilators and countless other life-saving medical supplies.

Healthcare professionals have worked tirelessly for days on end. Hundreds of thousands of American lives have been lost. Through it all, another pandemic has greatly exacerbated the devastating impact COVID, and that is the medical condition of obesity.

Although we were all affected by the pandemic, Americans living with obesity have faced a much greater risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. Obesity has been found to be an independent risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection and COVID-19 related death. This means that people affected by obesity have higher risks from COVID-19 infection regardless of whether they have additional health conditions.

78% of all COVID-19 cases where patients were hospitalized, needed a ventilator or died from COVID-19 were affected by obesity or obesity-related diseases. It is estimated that had there been even a 25% reduction of the prevalence of obesity in the U.S., it would have reduced COVID-19 hospitalizations by 6.8%, admissions to the ICU by 10.7%, and death by 11.4%.

Well before the COVID-19 pandemic, our country had been experiencing an exponential increase in the rate of obesity. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) ranks obesity as the second leading cause of death in our country. Obesity correlates with increased risk of multiple health conditions including type 2 diabetes, of which 90% of people with this condition have overweight or obesity, and cancer, as obesity is known to increase the risk of 13 types of cancers. Unfortunately, there seem to be little signs of obesity rates improving. Federal data indicates the obesity rate in the U.S. is 42.4% of adults, up significantly from 30.5% in 1999-2000.

The tragedy is that obesity is a treatable medical condition, but not all patients have access to treatment. Furthermore, most people living with obesity are dismissed as having low willpower or causing their own disease. In reality, we now know that there are strong hormonal, genetic, neurologic and environmental signals that control our hunger, satiety, craving and ability to store energy as fat. Treatment addresses these underlying causes, helping people to implement the lifestyle changes needed to improve their health.

We must change the culture and language that exists around obesity and recognize it as a treatable medical condition that requires a comprehensive approach. In doing so, we can reach more people to effectively treat this chronic disease. FDA-approved anti-obesity medications (AOMs) have helped patients treat their obesity, leading to significant health benefits.

Health expert organizations such as The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, the American Heart Association, and the Endocrine Society have even recommended AOMs as a critical obesity treatment for many patients. Widespread access to these treatments can be life and health-changing for individuals, and on a broader scale could serve as the key breakthrough we have needed in our efforts to effectively decrease the rates of obesity and its related diseases.

Currently, our federal government is in the process of debating reconciliation and should include legislation that would enact these very strategies. The Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) not only provides patients with the medication and therapies they need to treat obesity, but also promotes the fact that obesity should be understood as a medical condition if we are to effectively address and treat the causes of obesity. Finally, there would be a significant financial benefit to passing TROA, as it is estimated to save the government, and therefore taxpayers, nearly $25 million over the course of the next 10 years.

As we emerge from this pandemic and look to the future of healthcare, we must change the conversation around obesity. By enacting TROA to expand healthcare benefits and acknowledge obesity as a chronic illness, we can move towards a society that provides the best, evidence-based treatments for our most at-risk patients.

(Melissa Scull, MD, Internal Medicine/Obesity Medicine lives in Bedford.)

My Turns are opinion-based essays submitted by Monitor readers and members of the community. The views expressed in My Turns are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Concord Monitor and its staff.


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