The Open Window

OW2021: Five Insights to Take Home

It’s all over – except for the replays and reviews. ObesityWeek® 2021 wrapped up yesterday and with any luck (we’re looking at you, COVID) this will be the last purely online week of obesity research, policy, and practice for a while. Next year, the plan is for a hybrid meeting. So now it’s time to reflect on some of the key insights we’re taking home with us from OW2021 and to catch up on any important sessions we should not have missed. The content will all be available for viewing through the end of this year.

No doubt, everyone will have their own ideas about the most important themes from this meeting. But to get you thinking about it, here are five of ours.

1. A Bright Future for Obesity Care

On the very first day of the meeting, it was clear that change is coming for obesity care. A wide range of new therapies are in various stages of development. With good reason, Mike Albert described semaglutide as the “belle of the ball” in a week filled with news about new anti-obesity medicines. A presentation of data comparing weight outcomes with semaglutide to liraglutide tells us why. After 68 weeks, patients lost 16 percent of their baseline weight with semaglutide 2.4 mg weekly. With liraglutide 3 mg daily, the number was six percent.

But the real reason for hope is that better therapies means more people will seek care. Demand for semaglutide is outstripping supply. As more patients seek care, more providers will offer serious care. We might replace a vicious cycle of shame and blame with a virtuous cycle of care, help, and hope. We are hoping that more patient centered care and shared decision making lies in the future.

Fingers crossed.

2. Telehealth Is Extending the Reach of Care Delivery

Telehealth is here to stay. That was obvious to us in the early days of the pandemic. It’s even more obvious from insights presented at OW2021. Innovators are extending the reach of obesity care through telehealth services. Even in pediatric obesity, telehealth is proving to be a valuable tool. While COVID sparked a big change, unmet clinical needs are likely to keep it going.

3. Reducing Disparities and Bias Is Imperative for Public Health

OW2021 brought insights about disparities and bias into a blazing sharp focus. The systems that deliver healthcare generally, and obesity care specifically, are organized to deny good care to Black, Hispanic, and indigenous people. This is a crisis for public health. Campaigns to demonize various eating patterns and foods seem rather small by comparison.

4. COVID Has Changed Some Things

For the second year in a row, we’ve been unable to connect in person with respected friends and colleagues. But the effects of this pandemic have been much bigger. It has put people living with obesity at risk for worse outcomes. But it has also made people think harder about seeking and providing serious care for obesity. Because untreated obesity in this pandemic has serious consequences.

It has also clearly brought a rise in pediatric obesity prevalence and caused particular problems for children already living with obesity. Data presented at OW2021 made this abundantly clear.

5. Youth and Children Are Getting More Serious Attention

For decades now, children have been the targets for lots of anti-obesity talk and some unfortunate programs that did more harm than good. But presentations at OW2021 made it clear that leadership in pediatric medicine is headed in a better direction now. In particular, we were impressed with the symposium sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It covered a wide spectrum – from stigma and prevention to surgical care. Another symposium, on adolescent treatment, provided a deep dive on the full range of therapies.

In sum, we heard that people dealing with pediatric obesity are ready to move on from glittering generalities to serious strategies for prevention and care, grounded in evidence. Not personal convictions.

The Open Window, painting by Juan Gris / WikiMedia

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


November 6, 2021

One Response to “OW2021: Five Insights to Take Home”

  1. November 06, 2021 at 9:21 am, Allen Browne said:


    Yup – Obesity Week 2021 was good.The increasing number of tools for weight management is exciting. We have lots to learn about how to use the tools – in whom and when and with what.

    Prevention remains the problem child – mostly because we don’t know why one gets the disease and their family members, friends, and/or neighbors don’t. It’s discouraging that the numbers haven’t improved for children or adults, but honest, rigorous, creative research for both populations and individuals needs to continue. What goes wrong with the energy control system and what moves the “set point”? Certainly Nobel Prize worthy answers when they are discovered.