By Catherine Hicks
President, Philadelphia NAACP
Publisher, Philadelphia Sunday SUN
Millions of Americans suffer from obesity. They are blamed for their weight, constantly being told they are not making good decisions and sometimes experience discrimination from family, friends and healthcare providers. Many have searched high and low for affordable options and safe treatments to help manage what the medical community knows is a disease, only to find the cost of that treatment was simply out of reach.
I’ve seen people throughout my life experience discrimination and bias because of obesity. People with this condition continue to struggle with access to, and coverage of, management services and treatments. We must put an end to the stigma and treat obesity as the complex and treatable disease that it is.
Successful obesity treatment involves weight reduction and improvements in related comorbidities. Anti-obesity medications (AOMs) are an important component in fighting this disease and helping to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and other complications.
Even though Medicare covers prescriptions that control diseases like diabetes and high cholesterol that stem from obesity, the root cause is left untreated. My question is why is high blood pressure treated with medication, but obesity is not?
According to healthcentral.com, obesity is a costly epidemic and is linked to more than 200 health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer.
In the same way that diseases like cancer are passed down through the gene pool, so is obesity.
According to the CDC, approximately 100 million Americans are living with obesity, including 49.6% of Black adults, 44.8% of Hispanic adults, and 42.2% of white adults. Obesity disproportionately impacts communities of color who already face systemic inequities in healthcare. In Pennsylvania, 41.5% of African Americans are affected by obesity compared to 31.3% of non-Hispanic whites.
In particular, African American women have the highest rates of obesity compared to other groups in the United States, with 4 out of 5 African American women being obese or overweight, the Office of Minority Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports. Higher rates of obesity put communities of color at a greater risk for other serious chronic diseases.
Black Americans are 77% and Latinx Americans are 66% more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes compared to their white counterparts, a disease that increases the likelihood for life-threatening conditions like heart disease and stroke, states ajmc.com.
Solving systemic racial inequity in our healthcare system will require long-term, comprehensive action to address social determinants of health and bias and ensure equal access and affordability. But we can start by treating obesity like the disease the medical community knows it is now.
Our laws and regulations must be driven by science, including recognizing and treating obesity as a disease. Until we recognize obesity as the life-threatening disease that it is and work to advocate for AOMs as an effective treatment for obesity, millions will continue to suffer needlessly. Obesity is a disease, and it can be cured, but we have to treat it like one first.
Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any medical, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. This column, its author, the newspaper and publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.