It’s been almost a decade since obesity was designated as a serious, chronic disease by the American Medical Association (AMA). Yet today, these are the go-to “solutions” commonly offered to the two-out-of-five people in the US who live with obesity, including several members of my own family. Throughout my life, I simply couldn’t find the words to talk about it or express my compassion and support to my loved ones who needed it. Now I know that staying silent is not an option. In fact, it’s time for us all to step up and be part of the change.

One of my primary areas of focus as Vice President of Consumer Marketing at Novo Nordisk is to lead a team responsible for breaking down the science behind obesity to help people understand that there are metabolic factors causing their body to resist weight loss, and prompting them to seek help from their health care provider. This is critical to drive awareness of this disease and a more holistic approach to long-term weight management. As I am still new to my role and learning, I was glad to attend the Obesity Action Coalition’s (OAC) recent virtual event, Your Weight Matters. This is a patient-focused educational experience where leading experts discuss weight management science, strategies and tools.

My eyes were opened to how much work still needs to be done when it comes to further normalizing conversations around weight, health and wellness. There is some positive progress already, but a toxic culture of shame, blame and misinformation still very much exists. It’s going to take all of us to listen, become informed and use our voices to shift this narrative in the right direction.

Throughout this process, I couldn’t help but reflect on how obesity has shaped my own life. As a child, I would watch my mother inspect nutrition labels in the cereal aisle and attend Weight Watchers lectures at the local community center. I thought about my brother, who developed obesity as a young boy - and the journey he took to get gastric bypass surgery in his mid-30’s, only to regain and lose weight so many times over since then. 

I also worry about my eight-year-old son Jack, one of my three boys. I replay in my head the remarks his physician made to my wife and I about his weight, and the letters we’ve received from his school. All I want is for him to be able to live a happy and healthy life. These experiences show me that there is so much about obesity which is in our genes, outside of our willpower and control.

A standout session at Your Weight Matters was “Obesity is a Disease: Change My Mind,” which featured a discussion between leading obesity expert Arya Sharma, M.D., Ph.D., and Joe Nadglowski, OAC’s President & CEO.

Simply and powerfully, the speakers pointed out that we would never question the time and effort put into preventive care options for cancer and heart disease. So why should obesity be any different? It meets the fundamental definition of a “chronic disease” and yet it invites so many conflicting points-of-views.

It was heartbreaking to hear that so many people living with obesity have internalized the idea that they’re at fault or that this is a lifestyle issue they must face on their own. Obesity is a matter of health, linked to more than 60 other health conditions that can impact a person’s physical and emotional well-being. Just like any other chronic, progressive condition that impairs your health, obesity requires long-term, holistic approaches to care and treatment, which may include medication, behavioral health or surgery, in addition to healthy eating and physical activity.

Over the last decade, overall obesity rates in the U.S. have been rising. Communities of color continue to be disproportionately affected and are the most unlikely to receive care.

In another thought-provoking session, Harvard University’s Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Dr Fatima Cody Stanford suggested strategies are needed to address these disparities in both prevention and treatment. Given everything we know about the disease and the impact on our communities, access to care is more important than ever.

I’m proud of the work being done at this company to improve the lives and health of the communities we serve. Through our commitment to collaborating with groups such as the OAC, we can work to change how obesity is understood, diagnosed, and treated.

As I reflect on what I’ve learned, I’m committed to not only being part of that work, but also making it a personal priority to speak up and be an ally for anyone who needs it. It’s simply the right thing to do.