Excess weight and obesity are major public health concerns. Roughly four-in-ten adult Americans are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly one-third (30.7) of adults are overweight but don’t reach the level of obesity. That suggests more than two-thirds of adults carry too much weight.
This disproportionally affects certain historically marginalized groups. According to the CDC, about 49.9% of non-Hispanic Black adults have obesity. This is followed by Hispanic people at 45.6%, non-Hispanic white people at 41.4%, and non-Hispanic Asian individuals at 16.1%.
Among the poor, obesity is a bigger problem than hunger. There are a range of chronic diseases associated with obesity.
These include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Obesity may also be associated with reduced quality of life, including poorer mental well-being. This may have to do with the social stigma that still exists and the discrimination that some people may face as a result.
One study involving over 10,000 adults found that a higher waist circumference, waist-to-height ratio, and BMI were all associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, the study found that those with the greatest increases in body weight or waist circumference over an average of 2.8 years had an approximately 1.5- and 1.4-fold greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes, respectively.
Obesity is not a cosmetic or aesthetic issue: excess weight costs are high in additional expenditures to treat a range of chronic conditions.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States is $173 billion annually in 2019 dollars. People living with obesity are often forced to pay more out of pocket for medical care than those who do not have the condition.
In fact, the medical costs for people living with obesity are $1,861 higher yearly than for those within the recommended BMI range for their height and weight. Other research indicates an even higher figure of $2,505.
New research argues that doctors’ bias inhibits treating obesity.
Now, new data released by Eli Lilly and Company that looks at prevailing barriers that might stand in the way of normalizing and prescribing anti-obesity medications, speaks to larger issues of how many providers might discount genetics and factors that remain out of people’s control when they diagnose and treat the condition.
The survey showed that 58% of surveyed providers believe that obesity is mainly due to lifestyle choices, 43% believe that those living with obesity can reach a healthy weight if they only “try hard enough,” 24% reported they believed most patients with obesity are metabolically healthy even though they are carrying extra weight, and 67% think people with obesity should be “required to demonstrate motivation to make lifestyle changes before medical treatment is offered.”
Study co-author Dr. Rekha Kumar, chief medical officer at medically-assisted weight care program, Found, and practicing endocrinologist in New York City, said the figure that shows 43% of providers believe patients with obesity can generally achieve and maintain a healthy weight if they only tried enough was particularly surprising to her.
In recent years Americans have been conditioned to accept overweight people and look past weight and see the person underneath. I find it odd that doctors are faulted for not raising the issue with patients. Yet, I’ve read numerous accounts of doctors prescribing the diabetes drug Ozempic, and its weight-loss equivalent Wegovy to just about anyone who asks for it. Indeed, weight-loss centers are redefining their business models to include weight-loss drugs. Failing to do so would likely render them obsolete.
There are pharmaceutical and surgical tools to assist overweight people with weight loss. The challenge is whether society can afford it. By some accounts the cost is about $1,000 to $1,600 a month for drug therapy. Health insurance is unlikely to pay for weight loss drugs unless the alternative is paying more for obesity-related health costs. Then there is the concern whether the drug therapy can be intermittent or must be taken for life.
Obesity is a phenomenon of the 20th Century and beyond. It was largely unknown throughout history when food was scarce, required time-consuming preparation and physical labor was the norm. Prior to modern times excess weight and obesity were a condition found only among the wealthy. The relationship of obesity. Socioeconomic status and health-related costs are complicated issues that defy easy solutions.