Obesity coalition spreads awareness

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

When it comes to "true change" in the healthcare community, patient advocacy groups are usually the driving force, says Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the two-year-old Obesity Action Coalition, which represents people affected by obesity and their families. The coalition recently launched "Understanding Obesity," a series of brochures and posters designed to draw attention to the growing epidemic. Nadglowski spoke with HME News last month about the problems faced by obese patients in the healthcare and the larger community.
HME News: What is the most common misunderstanding people have about obesity?
Joe Nadglowski: I think the biggest one is that obesity is simple. People believe that if you just push yourself away from the table, you are not going to be obese anymore. The reality is that the causes of obesity are pretty complex. We have behavior, we have environment, we have genetics--all of these contribute in different ways. And, people don't realize how socioeconomic status plays a role. Lower income folks have the tendency to be heavier.
HME: How does society treat an obese person?
Nadglowski: The biggest issue really lies in much of the stigma and discrimination that's faced by a person who is obese. Unlike many other diseases, an obese person wears their disease. You can tell they have this health problem. Society is stigmatizing in its views of obesity and it can be damaging to a person. Many people have this perception that stigmatizing an obese person will motivate them to lose weight but there are studies that it actually has the opposite effect. Making fun of someone isn't going to motivate them to lose weight.
HME: Are there enough qualified healthcare professionals out there to treat this disease?
Nadglowski: There needs to be significantly more training, both in understanding prevention and treatment modalities, but also in sensitivity because one of the things we find most troubling is that though the obese are often described as most medically complex, when it comes to treating all their comorbidities, physicians spend the least amount of time with them. Is it because the doctor doesn't want to embarrass the person by bringing up their weight? Are they embarrassed about their own weight? Or is it that they feel there is nothing they can do to help this person because most insurance pretty much excludes coverage for treatment of obesity?
HME: How widely used is bariatric equipment?
Nadglowski: I think that's a tremendous market that may still be untapped. I think the challenge is how to access that market with the appropriate level of sensitivity and not to alienate folks. I think cost is an issue. I realize manufacturing this equipment is more expensive, but as more folks enter the market, it helps lower the cost.
HME: When will we see a reverse in the growth of obesity?
Nadglowski: I really think to make a dent in this epidemic, we have to not only prevent future generations from becoming obese but also treat the current population that is obese. It is such a long-term disease. It takes 20 to 25 years to experience the side effects of it. And I think it's going to last longer than most of the other epidemics that we've seen throughout history.