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Advocating for People Struggling with Obesity

By Kristal Hartman |  Published November 16 2017

If you ever want your voice to be heard, spend a day on Capitol Hill advocating for an issue near and dear to your heart.  That is exactly what I was able to do during a recent “Day on the Hill” organized by my employer Novo Nordisk. Feeling empowered to sit in front of members of Congress or their staff and have them focus entirely on what you are advocating for is incredibly fulfilling. This was my third time visiting members of Congress and/or their staff to ask for co-sponsorship of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act and the National Obesity Care Week Resolution.

Each time I have been there I feel like we have changed more minds and opened more hearts about the disease of obesity. I’m so pleased to share that the Senate has now passed a resolution expressing support for the designation of the last week of October as National Obesity Care Week, from this year onward! Not only does this mean that Congress officially recognizes obesity as a complex disease requiring treatment, this milestone also provides continued momentum for our advocacy efforts in support of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. And it means that people living with obesity like me may see a future where we receive respectful, comprehensive care and have access to the full spectrum of evidence-based tools and treatments for this disease.

My passion for advocating for patients struggling with obesity is because my parents and I battle this disease every day. They have obesity, and I have lived with this disease since I was a teen, and have felt the guilt and shame of struggling with this ever since. I never let it stop me from chasing my dreams until it got so debilitating that I was chronically ill and missing work. One year, I was hospitalized twice for pneumonia and severe asthma, and I was on 14 medications, causing me to miss time and activities with my kids.  If I had a dollar for every time I heard, “why can’t you get a grip on your weight? If you could just walk a little more and eat a little less…” The misperception that this disease is only about lack of self-discipline, poor willpower, and being lazy, drives me to work to ensure that other patients don’t go through this.  

That’s why the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act personally holds great importance to me. There is currently no access to regular weight management counseling or medications and that leaves a delicate patient population needing more options than just surgery. Right now under Medicare rules, a primary care provider can bill for only one “obesity” weight management counseling appointment. Patients cannot see any other HCP for nutrition or weight management counseling because those providers (CDE, RD, etc.) cannot currently bill Medicare for these services. The problem is, PCPs don’t have time for weight management counseling and it’s not their area of expertise. Medicare also doesn’t cover medications for chronic weight management. They will often cover bariatric surgery but this is at the extreme other end of the treatment spectrum for this disease. 

I want my parents – and people who share their battle with obesity – to have options that help them manage their disease on their terms. Please use your voice, and join me in being part of the solution to improve obesity care by supporting the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act. Learn more on ObesityCareAdvocacyNetwork.com

As for my own fight, it has been an intense and challenging journey, including nutrition counseling, psychological counseling, exercise and movement science counseling, gastric sleeve surgery, medication, and intensive lifestyle changes like meal planning, food journaling and fitness. I have opened and closed my food journal for 1,165 days in a row and have completed three half-marathons this year. It took me a year-and-a-half to lose 100 pounds and I have kept them off for almost two years. It is the hardest thing I have ever done and it is still a daily battle. But I’m lucky. Healthcare shouldn’t be about luck – it should be about having access to the tools that enable healthier living. And that’s what gets me up every day!

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