Ted Kyle, Dan Bessesen, and Amber Huett-Garcia

YWM Engage: Equipping for Fearless Advocacy

While Friday at YWM Engage focused on knowledge, yesterday was all about equipping people for fearless advocacy. It was a steady stream of very real, very personal perspectives on the change that is possible when people step forward to put a face on their own lived experience with obesity.

Pie Charts Don’t Inspire Marches on Washington

Jeanne Blankenship started the day sharing her own experiences in connecting with policymakers in Washington, DC. It’s what she does because she is Vice President for Policy and Advocacy with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But it’s not reams of facts and data that bring change, she told us. Nobody ever marched on Washington because of a pie chart. Personal stories and real human connections are what have the power to connect us to policymakers and to inspire change.

Sharing Personal Stories

Jaime Fivecoat, Kristal Hartman, and Maya Cohen put their own stories out there on stage with some very personal details. One of the most memorable moments what when Cohen told us how life-changing it was when she finally connected with a skilled and caring obesity medicine physician, Caroline Apovian. Three simple sentences made all the difference in the world:

“It’s not your fault. We can help you. You’re going to be OK.”

Moving the world toward health systems that will deliver this kind of care consistently will take some time, but it’s a worthy goal.

Changing the Narrative About Obesity

Right now the popular narrative about obesity is about willpower, choice, fault, and lifestyle, said TOS President Dan Bessesen. But the science of obesity is telling us a very different story. Obesity is a problem of biological regulation of weight and adipose tissue. It’s just like blood pressure or cholesterol. Your body controls it.

Shaping the obesity narrative is important because the narrative shapes the future. If we stay stuck on a narrative of fault, then we’ll be stuck making little progress to overcome obesity. At another extreme, a narrative that tries to tell us obesity is not a real health problem doesn’t help people who know their health is suffering because of obesity. What we need, said Bessesen, is something between those two extremes that steers away from blame and honors the biological science of obesity.

Amber Huett-Garcia, a past chair of the OAC told us that a generational shift is in progress. Gen Z is pretty much done with unsustainable diets and lifestyles. The quick fix culture just doesn’t have much traction with younger persons. So they want real medical care for real medical conditions.

Advocacy for Access Free From Stigma

These sessions were all about equipping people for fearless advocacy with two key targets – better access to care and less stigma. Throughout the day, people attending YWM Engage shared their personal stories of frustration in getting the medical care they needed. A common thread through all of it was the bias they encountered and situations that weight them down with stigma.

Our stories have the power to change all of this. Because the people who shaped the old narrative about obesity simply made it up without the benefit of knowing the real human pain that their false narratives brings. To change their minds, we must first reach their hearts.

For more on advocacy and the priorities of the OAC community, click here and here.

Special thanks to OAC board member Nina Crowley for her important contributions to this report.

Ted Kyle, Dan Bessesen, and Amber Huett-Garcia at YWM Engage; photo courtesy of the Yelena Kibasova

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July 17, 2022

One Response to “YWM Engage: Equipping for Fearless Advocacy”

  1. July 17, 2022 at 9:46 am, Allen Browne said:


    Thanks for a great summary of a great day with great people trying to help others. WOW!!!