Understanding and treating obesity: What’s missing?

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In the United States, the number of people who are overweight is on the rise, making it harder to reduce the number of heart diseases and strokes.

Despite breakthroughs in understanding how to manage obesity, these findings are not widely used in everyday medical practices. This issue was the focus of a new study released by the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation.

Dr. Deepika Laddu, who led the study, expressed concern over obesity being a major public health issue not just in the U.S., but globally. It affects almost every group of people and places a heavy burden on our healthcare systems.

Laddu, a senior research scientist at Arbor Research Collaborative for Health in Michigan, noted a significant difference between our knowledge of obesity and what actually happens during medical appointments.

For nearly three decades, obesity rates have been climbing, with over 40% of U.S. adults now classified as obese. Being overweight is closely linked to higher risks of heart disease and strokes.

Researchers have made progress in figuring out what causes obesity, looking at both social and biological factors. They’ve also developed more methods for managing it, including lifestyle changes, drugs, and surgery. However, these solutions are not easy to implement.

Recently, new drugs have been approved that help with weight loss. Even though half of the U.S. adult population qualifies for these medications, they are rarely prescribed.

Barriers such as lack of insurance coverage and the high cost of these drugs have kept them out of reach for many.

This began to change in March when Medicare and Medicaid started covering the cost of semaglutide, a drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to help reduce the risk of death from heart problems in people who are obese or overweight.

Although state Medicaid programs are required to cover nearly all approved obesity drugs, they often ask patients to try other treatments first.

Weight loss surgery has also improved significantly over the years. It has become safer and studies have shown it can significantly decrease the risk of diseases related to obesity. Still, not everyone can afford or access this type of surgery due to costs and lack of support.

Laddu emphasized that healthcare professionals and systems need to do a better job of applying what we know about managing obesity so that more patients can receive appropriate help.

She suggested using new technologies like telemedicine, referring patients to community programs for weight management, and enhancing social support to increase the availability and effectiveness of treatments.

The study also pointed out that a person’s chance of receiving the right treatment is influenced by various social factors like insurance, income, race, and access to educational resources.

The report stressed the need for educating healthcare professionals on the complicated causes and effects of obesity.

Dr. Laddu highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach across different levels of health care delivery and public policy.

She called for the adoption of practical, proven strategies in clinical settings and pointed out the importance of further research and policy changes to improve the way we care for patients today and ensure fair access to obesity-related healthcare for everyone, particularly those in underrepresented groups.

This comprehensive approach could bridge the gap between advanced obesity research and its application in real-world medical practice.

If you care about weight management, please read studies about diets that could boost your gut health and weight loss, and 10 small changes you can make today to prevent weight gain.

For more information about obesity, please see recent studies about low-carb keto diet could manage obesity effectively and results showing popular weight loss diet linked to heart disease and cancer.

The research findings can be found in Circulation.

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