When Medicare was initially created, most politicians on Capitol Hill believed that obesity was a lifestyle choice. As someone who works directly with patients living with this chronic disease, I can tell you that obesity is not a lifestyle choice, but an often debilitating medical condition. People living with obesity face great vulnerability and existential challenges, including objectification and alienation as human beings. Rather than leaving folks to battle this medical condition on their own, it is vital to have compassion for others and recognize that obesity is an epidemic that has grown rapidly in America, and we will not solve this until we confront the facts and gain an understanding of how we can best help individuals manage obesity.
The first step in helping people manage obesity is to change how we approach the issue. A toxic culture has developed surrounding obesity in America — people living with this condition have been bullied, discriminated against, and harshly judged by society despite many factors contributing to their condition being out of their control. Because of these conditions, individuals experiencing obesity are often left without the structure and care necessary to fight this disease, which has led to a seemingly unmanageable epidemic in our nation. According to federal data, obesity has grown rapidly in the last two decades with the rate of obese adults going from 30.5% in 1999-2000 to 42.4% of adults currently.
The second step involves Americans, including our federal delegation and the rest of Congress, recognizing obesity as a medical condition in order to begin brainstorming potential solutions and treatments.This includes medical tools such as anti-obesity medications (AOMs), which are proven to assist in helping a person experiencing obesity in reaching health goals, which will in turn reduce the overall prevalence of the condition in America and improve public health while reducing medical costs for families across the nation.Recent studies show how well AOMs have helped individuals battle obesity, which has subsequently led health and medicine experts to recommend them as a vital treatment option; however, unless AOMs are affordable for the average American, many people experiencing obesity will not have access to them.
Congress recently introduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA), which directs Medicare to expand its coverage of obesity therapy and medication in order to help combat the obesity epidemic in America. The TROA would give beneficiaries access to FDA-approved AOMs under Medicare Part D, making this proven effective treatment an option for low-income patients who are statistically already more likely to experience obesity as a condition. The bill would also focus on medical conditions caused by obesity, including type 2 diabetes, as 90% of people with type 2 diabetes are above a healthy weight, as well as cancer, as obesity increases the risk of 13 different kinds of cancer. As a result of these treatments being introduced via Medicare to the general population, American healthcare costs would decline overall as expert research shows that reducing Americans’ overall body mass index by 5% before 2030 would save the United States nearly $25 billion annually.
Obesity is a difficult condition, and for folks living with obesity, fighting the disease and underlying contributing components can be the hardest fight of their lives. Not only does obesity create internal battles for those who have it due to discrimination and general negative public perception, but it also makes those experiencing it more susceptible to other illnesses and diseases. It is vital for Americans to address obesity as an issue and epidemic, and show fellow Americans living with the condition that we support them by building support and offering them affordable, accessible treatment options. By passing the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, we can make America a healthier and more accepting, compassionate place for all.
Samantha Stakel is a nutrition scientist and certified personal trainer in Denver.