Health Care Advocates Unveil Historic Obesity Bill of Rights

Contrary to the common biases of people with chronic obesity, Dr. Fatima Stanford, an obesity medicine physician scientist and staunch supporter of the Obesity Bill of Rights, told The Informer that beyond poor eating habits, pathophysiology explains the root of chronic obesity, as food intake is regulated in the brain.  

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By Lindiwe Vilakazi | Washington Informer

NNPA NEWSWIRE — In efforts to create a supportive ecosystem for people facing chronic obesity nationwide, an influential collection of public health groups, aging experts, and leading consumer advocates introduced the Obesity Bill of Rights. The goal of the bill is to protect the dignity and autonomy of those battling obesity.

Spearheaded by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) alongside the National Consumers League (NCL), the initiative sets a plan of action to reframe obesity care in employer, federal, and state policies.  Inspired by a yearlong effort of research and community feedback, the Obesity Bill of Rights is a landmark effort in targeting how the healthcare industry and legislators alike will address the chronic yet commonly undiagnosed disease.

Dr. Fatima Stanford, an obesity medicine physician scientist and staunch supporter of the Obesity Bill of Rights, told The Informer that beyond poor eating habits, pathophysiology explains the root of chronic obesity, as food intake is regulated in the brain.

“Our aim with the Obesity Bill of Rights is to designate quality obesity care as the inherent right of all adults, empowering those with the disease to demand unbiased treatment, regardless of their size or weight,” Sally Greenberg, CEO of the National Consumers League, said in a statement.

The legislative proposal outlines eight key fundamental rights designed to ensure proper care and protection for individuals with obesity, including proper diagnosis, screening, counseling, and sufficient treatment under medical guidelines, while obliterating ageism and weight bias across the healthcare system.

Statistics show that out of 108 million adults who are living with obesity, only 30 million have been diagnosed, and only 2% of those individuals who are eligible for anti-obesity prescriptions have actually received medical treatments.

Further, officials highlight bleak outcomes for cases of untreated obesity, leading to over 230 medical conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.

Dorothea Vafiadis conducts obesity town halls across the country to garner deeper analysis behind the experiences and concerns of individuals with obesity. As senior director for the National Council on Aging, Vafiadis shared the sentiments of many obese Americans, many of whom felt invisible and hopeless from a lack of support and proper treatment within medical spaces.

“Many people with obesity feel stuck because they don’t get the care that they need, especially people of color, but older adults with obesity face both ageism and weight stigma.  In Jackson, Mississippi, at a faith-based organization, we had an older adult man stand up and say,

‘We live sick and we die quick,’ as he had lost several relatives to diet-related obesity, all dying around the age of 50,” Vafiadis told The Informer.  “It was very powerful to hear the stories of older adults and their search for information to be recognized, to get the care that they need and to feel supported.”

The Obesity Bill of Rights highlights the severe disparities in chronic obesity seen in communities of color, particularly among the Black American community.

Nearly 48% of African American adults are clinically obese, with 37.1% of men and 56.6% of women, compared to 32.6% of white Americans.

The Office of Minority Health reports that roughly 4 out of 5 African American women are overweight or obese, while in 2018, 1.3 non-Hispanic Black people were more likely to be obese as compared to their non-Hispanic white counterparts, largely explaining why obesity is deemed a national crisis.

Contrary to the common biases of people with chronic obesity, Dr. Fatima Stanford, an obesity medicine physician-scientist and staunch supporter of the Obesity Bill of Rights, told The Informer that beyond poor eating habits, pathophysiology explains the root of chronic obesity, as food intake is regulated in the brain.

Stanford emphasized the crucial importance of reducing stigma and bias towards patients managing obesity in medical spaces, as obesity shows to be a complex chronic disease largely influenced by a multitude of factors including food insecurity, trauma, and psychological triggers outside of the common focus on dietary habits.

“A lot of people talk about biological or medical reasons, age-related changes.   Those menopausal changes and perimenopausal changes will affect you.  Genetics and epigenetics, something about us being Black [people] may affect us.  Different medications that are prescribed to us, [or] sleep deficit may affect us, but we don’t ever hear about those things,” said Stanford.

She considered mental health as a contributing factor to many obesity struggles.

“What was mom’s stress? What was her obesity? What were all of mom’s issues when she was going through pregnancy?  What is your trauma history?  Are you dealing with emotional coping issues?  We haven’t talked about those issues.”

The Obesity Bill of Rights has received a collective endorsement from 36 leading organizations, including the American Nurses Association, the Academy of Nutrition, and the Obesity Action Coalition.  Likewise, the collective’s efforts are publicly backed by prominent policy makers such as Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), who are also leading the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) to push expansion of access to obesity treatments across the country.

“Obesity is a chronic condition – not a personal or moral failing.  We need to ensure our health care system treats it as a disease so that Americans with obesity can access holistic, high-quality care that meets the full spectrum of their needs,” Moore said.