Incomplete View of the Orchard Hotel

Weight Loss, Obesity Care, and the Import of Words

Words matter. They convey both facts and feelings and the wrong words create misunderstandings that are sometimes irreparable. Because of this, we notice the imbalance in public discourse about new medicines for obesity that more often casts them as weight loss drugs than as medicines for the care and treatment of obesity.

Fortunately, others are paying attention, too. Recently, the Brazilian Society of Endocrinology and Metabolism (SBEM) published a joint statement with ABESO to define the importance of this distinction. They wrote:

“Obesity is largely undertreated, in part because of the stigma surrounding the disease and its treatment. The use of the term “weight loss drugs” to refer to medications for the treatment of obesity may contribute to this stigma, leading to the idea that anyone who wants to lose weight could use them and that short-term use, only in the active weight loss phase would be enough. On the contrary, the use of terms such as “medications to treat obesity” or “anti-obesity medications” conveys the idea that the treatment is directed at the disease rather than the symptom.”

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

To state it simply, overcoming obesity is a marathon, not a sprint. Because obesity is a chronic disease, a single intervention – like acute weight loss – does not cure it. No more than a single dose of a powerful drug that makes a person’s blood pressure drop would cure hypertension.

But the problem comes when people avoid talking about obesity. The condition is loaded with stigma – in part because for so long, the options for treatment have been inadequate.

With advanced medicines for obesity, we are hearing more people who are ready to talk about it. But the conversation is still way out of balance. More than half of the headlines about obesity medicines still refer to them as weight loss drugs and thoughtful conversations about obesity care are not common.

We have the right words for public discourse about obesity. Perhaps we will be using them more often. We hope so.

Click here for the joint statement by SBEM and ABESO, here and here for further perspective.

Incomplete View of the Orchard Hotel, photograph by Basile Morin, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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October 1, 2023