Barbara Cacy

Humanity Meets Science at ObesityWeek 2020

Oddly enough, obesity can be a bit of an abstraction. Everybody thinks they know all about it. But in truth, the smartest people who study know how little we know. At the opening of ObesityWeek 2020, though, all that abstract science came face to face with humanity. Perhaps more than we’ve ever seen before, the lived experience of people with obesity gained equal footing with science.

A Very Different Opening

Typically the opening session for this meeting is very formulaic. First comes the ceremonial stuff. Then comes a big distinguished expert. However, the script was a bit different this time. Of course, President Lee Kaplan did a little bit of the ceremonial stuff. He dished out a few awards – one even came our way.

Before that, we received a real treat. Concise presentations – 10 minutes each – offered a snapshot of important issues in obesity research and clinical care. The presenters were compelling and clear. The subjects ranged from genetics, biology, and medicine to advocacy and systemic racism.

Jamy Ard offered up a brilliant summary of the disparities in health that fuel disparities in obesity. These disparities are not by chance. They are by design, he said. “One of the most informative talks I have ever heard,” said Sarah Deemer. Ard went to the root of the problem – health used as a tool for centuries against racial and ethnic minorities. He offered realistic and hopeful words from James Baldwin:

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Elevating People

The default in obesity is to diminish the people who live with it. Stigma and bias are prevalent. When treatment fails, clinicians often presume patients are noncompliant. Some surgeons still label a relapse of weight gain after surgery as recidivism.

But the opening session made it clear. Things are indeed changing. President and CEO Joe Nadglowski of the Obesity Action Coalition offered one of those concise presentations to set the tone for ObesityWeek 2020. He called for everyone in the field to amplify the voices of people living with obesity. He told us that science and humanity must compliment each other as we pursue solutions.

Stepping Up

Kaplan brought it all together in his presidential lecture. He described the gaps between aspirations to reduce the health impact of obesity and the results we are seeing. The problem is growing worse, not better. This stands in sharp contrast to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

We must step up our game, he said. We have to elevate the rigor of the science. And perhaps most important, we must eliminate the stigma, prejudice, and discrimination that is so dominant in the lives of people with obesity. It is blocking the way to progress.

Click here for Nadglowski’s presentation on amplifying the patient voice. Follow #OW2020 on Twitter this week if you want to know the latest from this outstanding meeting.

Barbara Cady presents at ObesityWeek 2020, Patient Perspectives Symposium

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November 3, 2020

3 Responses to “Humanity Meets Science at ObesityWeek 2020”

  1. November 03, 2020 at 1:35 pm, John P Foreyt said:

    Ted, Congratulations on the award from TOS. Well deserved!!

    • November 03, 2020 at 5:27 pm, Ted said:

      John, your name came up in my response because you and Tom encouraged me two decades ago and I was hooked. I have always appreciated your generous spirit, candor, and kindness.

  2. November 03, 2020 at 3:00 pm, David Brown said:

    “When treatment fails, clinicians often presume patients are noncompliant.”

    It doesn’t occur to clinicians that the problem might reside with the treatment options. Take racial disparities, for example. It is widely acknowledged that lower income groups have diminished access to high quality foods. Meat seems to be especially problematic. For example, consumption of corn-fed animal proteins are more common among lower socioeconomic status populations, which places these populations at a potentially greater risk for increased health problems.

    In addition, “epidemiological and ecological studies critical of red meat consumption do not discriminate among meats from livestock fed high-grain rations as opposed to livestock foraging on landscapes of increasing phytochemical richness. The global shift away from phytochemically and biochemically rich wholesome foods to highly processed diets enabled 2.1 billion people to become overweight or obese and increased the incidence of type II diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”