Solving the Obesity Puzzle, Learning from Cancer

We have a complex, chronic disease in our midst. It’s a challenging puzzle. It develops over time. This disease debilitates people and dramatically diminishes the quality of their lives. It comes in many forms and it’s tough to cure. We’d rather prevent it and we’re finding ways to do that.

But with millions of people affected already, prevention alone is not a complete answer. Neither, by itself, is treatment. The two inevitably must work hand in hand. We’re talking about cancer and we’re talking about obesity

Learning from Progress with Cancer

Estimated Number of Cancer Survivors in the United States

Almost 50 years ago, President Richard Nixon signed the National Cancer Act and marked the beginning of a “war on cancer.”

It was a time when the practice of medical oncology was just emerging. Cancer treatment was moving beyond simply removing tumors, toward integrated medical and surgical treatment. New therapies were emerging. Differential diagnosis was improving. Comprehensive cancer treatment centers were forming.

Soon, cancer survival rates began to soar. People slowly stopped hiding from a diagnosis of cancer. Stigma and fear shrank.

Trends in U.S. Death Rates Among Males for Selected Cancers

Trends in U.S. Death Rates Among Males for Selected Cancers

At the same time, the focus on smoking as a potent carcinogen was sharpening. Cigarette advertising was banned from television in 1971. Minnesota was the first state to restrict indoor smoking in 1975. Indoor smoking bans spread rapidly in the 1980s. Lung cancer deaths started to peak around 1990.

Progress in Obesity: More Recent

Prevention programs in schools are showing promise, as are community level programs. Obesity medicine is growing rapidly. More than 2,000 physicians are now diplomates of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Integrated programs for medical and surgical obesity treatment are taking shape, but still very few in numbers.

Today in Boston, more than 600 professionals will gather to learn the latest insights into this complex, chronic disease at the Harvard Blackburn Course on Obesity Medicine. The puzzle of how to treat and prevent obesity is slowly taking shape. But the prevalence and burden of disease is still growing. We have work to do.

For perspective on the history of progress in cancer, click here and here.

Jigsaw Puzzle, photograph © MIKI Yoshihito / flickr

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June 22, 2017