New Man

Five Trends to Define 2023 in Obesity and Health

While some of us slept last night, the calendar rolled us into the start of a whole new year. A clean slate with new challenges and opportunities. So what lies ahead? It’s impossible to know (as our review of 2022 predictions nicely shows), but that won’t stop us from offering our best guess. In that spirit, here are five big trends we believe will define 2023 in obesity and health.

1. Hot Debates About Obesity

We have no doubt about this one. We will see some hot debates about obesity in the year ahead. BMI is a metric that people love to hate because it’s an outstanding tool for screening and epidemiology, but a terrible tool for definitive diagnosis of obesity. So some will cry to eliminate all references to it in clinical care, while others will protest, saying “not so fast.” Still others will point to the debate and say “See! Obesity is a bogus diagnosis.”

Stigma will continue to be a thorny issue because it compromises the health and lives of people with obesity. Yet, ignorant talking heads will keep offering up their feeling that “obesity is due to a lifestyle choice, and thus avoidable.” Which is precisely what has led us down the road to failed prevention strategies based on nudging or browbeating people into making better personal choices. Arguments over prevention will thus get even hotter as these strategy failures become unmistakeable. We’ll have to come up with prevention strategies that actually work, instead of continuing to defend the failures.

Finally, the biggest, hottest debate of all will be about access to care. We can’t possibly afford these breakthrough obesity drugs” will crash headlong into “untreated obesity is bankrupting healthcare and the productivity of the workforce.” Prices will come down and access will improve because the unmet medical need is great.

2. More Attention to Ultra-Processed Foods

Fat, sugar, and salt are yesterday’s boogeymen. The boogeyman for 2023 and for years to come will be ultra-processed foods. Now, if only we can figure out what they are, maybe we can lessen the harm they cause.

3. AI and Retail Healthcare

Artificial intelligence, big data, and algorithms keep promising to revolutionize healthcare, much as Amazon and other online systems changed the way we shop. The missteps will continue, but so will the efforts to get it right. Combine this with the incredible growth of urgent and convenient care sparked by the pandemic, and we will see a new landscape emerge for healthcare that is more efficient and more responsive to patient needs.

4. More and Better Options for Obesity Care

The options for effective medical treatment of obesity are multiplying fast enough to make us dizzy. A new era of obesity care is taking shape. So we will see this trend driven by more and better drugs, more providers with the necessary skills for treating obesity, and health plans that cover obesity care to remain competitive.

5. Persistent Confusion About Healthy Eating

FDA is on a futile quest to define what it takes to define a food as healthy. This feeds into a marketplace that exploits that quest for “healthy eating” to sell ever more food, consumed in greater quantities, in more places, and on more occasions. Eat lots and lots of this “healthy” food is not a recipe for better health. But it is the model the food industry promotes with the help of food policy advocates.

So confusion will persist about what healthy eating really is.

New Man, illustration by El Lissitzky / WikiArt

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January 1, 2023