Looking Away from Care for Severe Obesity

Closed EyesWriting about The Whale in Psychology Today, counselor Kari Anderson tells us the movie brings a story into view that we look away from too often. “Real people with real stories are suffering, feeling trapped in their own bodies and unable to leave their homes,” she writes. This is uncomfortable viewing for many people because, she says, “it brings to light a common story of an uncommon life that few understand.” Looking away from severe obesity and the care it requires is more comfortable and more common.

In their study of the growing need for care that people with severe obesity require, Kath Williamson and colleagues aptly call it “overlooked and under-evidenced.”

Broad Needs for Care

Williamson et al examined the broad needs for care of people with severe obesity – more than just the acute healthcare that the National Health Service provides. This includes a range of services: residential care, home care, medical equipment, and assistance with activities of daily living.

The needs are great and the population that requires them is growing. These researchers found a wide variation in the cost of these care requirements, with a mean annual cost of £26,594 ($32,892). Without accounting for these long-term costs we may have an incomplete view of the need for preventive care. The authors explain:

“Economic evaluations of obesity and weight management need to include these wider care costs to ensure completeness. Basic analysis suggests ascending BMI group plays a role in increasing costs, but larger, more sophisticated studies are needed.”

Looking Away from Severe Obesity No More

Because health and social support systems look away from the care needs of people with severe obesity, these people find themselves out of options and without hope all too often. Anderson explains:

“I have seen this play out in the lives of the clients that I treat. Those that want help have few options. We simply aren’t equipped to care for them. Many can’t get medical procedures that they need due to their girth, as the equipment will not accommodate their size. Even eating disorder treatment centers don’t have the proper furniture and special equipment for showering, transferring, and mobilizing.”

We must do better. Closing our eyes will not make this problem disappear. Better care – all the way from preventive to palliative – is essential. It begins with opening our eyes.

Click here for Anderson’s reflections on The Whale and here for the study by Williamson et al. For perspective on the growth in health expenses for obesity, click here.

Closed Eyes, painting by Odilon Redon / WikiArt

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April 17, 2023