The Your Weight Matters convention (August 10-13), the largest national meeting dedicated to providing evidence-based strategies for individuals impacted by excess weight and obesity, saw more than 600 patients and advocates for obesity care come together in New Orleans.
In this blog, obesity advocate Patricia Nece, JD, shares her personal experience of living with obesity, discusses her role as a Novo Nordisk patient ambassador, and urges you to help change the way the world sees and treats this chronic, progressive disease.
I have suffered from obesity my entire life. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t overweight. Nor do I remember a time when I wasn’t bullied, or teased, or ridiculed, or negatively stereotyped because of my weight. Despite a successful career and active social life, I could never get a handle on my weight. Family, friends, and every media outlet in society told me that I could conquer my weight if I just ate less and exercised more or had enough willpower. Medical providers reinforced this message, repeatedly, without any further support or guidance. No one ever suggested that obesity involved a disease process beyond my own personal control.
After countless times of losing weight, I regained everything I lost and more. I felt like a failure. My life and my physical body continued to go downhill. Tired of not living life fully, I gave weight management one more shot. This time, I found an obesity specialist. He understood what I had endured—and, unlike other health care providers, he didn’t blame me for not being able to maintain any weight loss. He explained that obesity is a serious, complex, chronic disease. He took the time and used his knowledge to help me address my weight.
Becoming an advocate
At my doctor’s urging, I began my “second career” as an advocate, and met a group of health care professionals who truly cared about people with obesity. But the vast majority of people in the room had never personally experienced obesity, and their views reflected that.
I realized that for far too long people affected by obesity had not been involved in the treatment discussion. Many like me had not stood up against the constant barrage of bias and stigma we face. I decided it was time to add my voice and my experience to help the nearly 40% of Americans who have obesity and face these issues every day.
I began collaborating with Novo Nordisk as an obesity patient ambassador, sharing my personal story to inspire others. Until recently, there haven’t been a lot of people like me who spend their time working to debunk the myths and breakthrough the stigma of obesity. Slowly though, more voices are being raised and heard. The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a national non-profit organization which helps individuals affected by the disease of obesity through education, advocacy, and support, is a leader in this fight.
The disease of obesity
I wish I could tell you that getting obesity recognized as something more than a matter of willpower or “eating less and moving more” is easy. Those of us who have been a part of this battle know that this mindset dominates our culture. The very systems we rely on for improving our health and delivering the care we need, in large part, are working against what the growing research shows: obesity is a serious, chronic, progressive, multi-factorial disease.
Beyond prevention efforts, obesity requires a toolbox full of treatment options and, perhaps even more importantly, healthcare providers who understand both the disease and what is available to help address it.
A vision of better care
The good news is that we’re on the right track. Options beyond improved nutrition and physical activity are now available to help fill the long-time gap between prevention and interventions. Healthcare providers are actively learning more about obesity, as a growing number of doctors become board certified by the American Board of Obesity Medicine each year. These providers are trained in obesity treatment and how to have productive, sensitive conversations with patients.
As knowledge about obesity grows, the stigma is slowly diminishing, thanks to the work of the OAC and other advocates. Fat shaming is also becoming less acceptable.
Even policymakers are working to provide better access to obesity care. Recently, the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) was re-introduced to the 115th Congress. TROA was created to provide Medicare beneficiaries and their health care providers with tools to reduce obesity by improving access to weight-loss counseling and medications for chronic weight management. In addition, a resolution has been introduced to officially recognize National Obesity Care Week (NOCW), an effort that the obesity community started to bring public awareness to the need for a comprehensive approach to care for obesity.
As this work to address obesity continues on these fronts, it is essential that we keep the focus on what matters most - patients and their needs. How can you help make a difference? Here are some thoughts.
Let’s continue to elevate the voices that help promote the truth about weight and let people with obesity know that they’re not alone.
To learn more, please visit the following educational resources developed by Novo Nordisk: