The Wall Around Obesity Treatment

A new study in Obesity documents an apparent wall around obesity treatment for many people with this chronic disease. David Arterburn and colleagues from the Group Health Research Institute surveyed 295 members of Group Health who had severe obesity and were not seeking bariatric surgery. Group Health is a large health system in Washington state. They found that most were trying to do something about their weight, but few had ever discussed medical or surgical treatment of their obesity with a physician.

Even the most common obesity treatment approach — commercial weight loss programs like Weight Watchers — were rarely used. Only 10% of the respondents reported using them. Drug treatments were even more rarely used — 0.1%.

Many were interested in learning more about drug and surgical treatments for their obesity, but less than half of those who were interested had ever discussed them with their physician. And even those who had insurance coverage for bariatric surgery were no more likely to have discussed it with their physician

One clue to this pattern was the finding that white race and higher income predicted more use of weight loss programs. This finding is consistent with prior observations of social and economic disparities in access to care that are even greater for obesity treatment than for other conditions.

But our own experience suggests that another factor is at work, too. The perception that obesity is a personal failure leads many people to believe that seeking obesity treatment with drugs or surgery compounds the failure.

This wall must go.

Click here to read the study in Obesity and click here to read about the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act of 2013.

Wall, photograph © Niels Linneberg / flickr

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