Obesity as a Disease: Where We Are & What's Ahead

Letter from the President

June 11, 2014


Dear Colleagues,


On the impending 1st anniversary of the declaration of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association (AMA), I'd like to take a moment to revisit the impact of this decision, our progress since and what's ahead.

It was at its policy making meeting last June that the AMA joined the call for this designation by The Obesity Society (2008) and a number of other leading health organizations, including the National Institutes of Health (1998), the Social Security Administration (1999), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (2004), and the American Association for Clinical Endocrinology (2012).

As the attention to the AMA announcement began to die down, TOS joined our partners at the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology to release newly revised clinical guidelines for obesity treatment based on the available science. The release of the guidelines illustrate the hard work and tenacity of TOS members, who are continually developing science-based, proven interventions that are effective at both the individual and population level.

In parallel, the American public is undergoing a new focus on food culture and, in many places, an improved emphasis on nutrition awareness. Americans have never been so interested in their food, food additives, food processing, nutrients and effects of diet on health. And although the miracle diet cures and fad books are still popular, there seems to be increasing attention to the number of treatment options both available and under development.

Two new weight management drugs are expected to be reviewed by FDA in September, potentially bringing weight loss clinicians and patients in need to a total of four options for evidence-based medications for the treatment of obesity. The spotlight has been on safety and for a good reason. But more treatment options are needed for persons with obesity. TOS supports a fair and balanced review at the FDA and open communication surrounding not only theoretical safety concerns but also the benefits of weight loss and management.

TOS continues to work with our Corporate Advisory Council on the Treat Obesity Seriously campaign to accomplish two primary goals: (1) to empower primary care physicians to begin conversations with their patients about obesity and obesity treatments, and; (2) to educate policymakers on the need to recognize obesity as a serious disease.

So, what comes next?

Now is the time to rally support for the adoption of and health coverage for obesity treatments. Today, the AMA joined this call by passing new policy to work with organizations like TOS to make this happen. We extend our thanks to our partners at AACE, American College of Surgeons, and ASMBS – all members of the AMA delegation – who have worked tirelessly to make this happen. Backed by physicians, researchers and the FDA, it's clear there is sufficient data to truly Treat Obesity Seriously.

What's holding us back?

First, and foremost, coverage for obesity care and treatments must be expanded. We cannot continue to deny persons with obesity access to care. Denials by health insurers are not based on sound science, rather lingering weight bias and discrimination. Our advocacy efforts are making a difference, but we have a long way to go. People affected by obesity - and denied these needed treatments - must speak up and play a role in our efforts through the Obesity Action Coalition and the Obesity Care Continuum [OCC].

Second, TOS is getting serious about improving professional education for clinicians, so obesity treatment goes beyond a short conversation. Were taking action to increase the number of American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) certified physicians in the US. Our upcoming ABOM prep course at ObesityWeek℠ 2014 is shaping up nicely and additional efforts are underway to tackle medical education from the very beginning of the journey: in medical schools. The opportunities for impact are vast, but there is a long road ahead, and we must continue to press that gas pedal.

We are only beginning to turn the corner on the obesity epidemic and slowly but surely making progress. Are we there yet? Absolutely not. But the numbers suggest we are making a difference.

As we move through 2014, TOS members will continue to generate novel and important scientific insights and discoveries, and our advocacy teams will bring these new developments to policy makers so they can have an impact on our health care environment. Our educators will translate this research into clinical practice, and TOS will continue to be THE source of accurate information about obesity and its serious impact on human health.




Steven R. Smith, MD
The Obesity Society President

(Please note: External Links are provided as a courtesy. The Obesity Society is not responsible for the content on sites accessed through external links.)

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