Obesity has been an epidemic in the United States for decades and it now affects 42 percent of the adult population. This is the first time in our history that the national rate exceeds 40 percent. Earlier predictions, including one from a 2010 study by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, anticipated that this level of obesity would not be seen until 2050. However, a 2019 Harvard study now offers a more alarming view and anticipates that nearly 50 percent of the population will have obesity by 2030. This increase has serious consequences for those affected by the disease and the physicians and health care systems that provide treatment.
Weight loss and management are the best options for healthier patient outcomes. A comprehensive weight loss program that includes medical oversight, education, counselling, behavior modification and lifestyle changes offer the most helpful and effective resources to effectively address both the disease of obesity and its symptoms. This approach is imperative because too often only the symptoms are treated, rather than the root cause, contributing to the cyclic nature of treatment while serious health issues such as diabetes and hypertension develop.
Health care systems benefit when weight loss programs are offered in-house. A primary advantage of this is having all patient records centralized and accessible. A surgeon considering a total knee arthroplasty can review a patient’s file to decide if a consultation with the patient’s primary care physician or cardiologist is required without risking unnecessary delay. Pre-surgical weight loss also can lower the risk of surgical complications by reducing cardiovascular risks and problems with anesthesia, and it leads to better wound healing and shorter hospital stays.
There are also financial benefits. Sending patients outside of the system to address health issues bifurcates their care and can result in them leaving the system completely. Further, because obesity is linked with so many comorbidities, an in-house program can quickly grow through referrals across multiple departments whose patients’ health and medical treatment can be significantly impacted by obesity. This includes orthopedics, cardiology, endocrinology and gynecology, among others.
Using medically prescribed meal replacement products as part of a supervised weight loss program offers positive outcomes for patients across specialty areas, as well as those preparing for surgery. Research supports the use of a Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) for multiple conditions, and findings show improvements including a reduction in the need for diabetes medication, decrease in hypertension, improved lipid and glucose markers and a better quality of life. The use of a VLCD also has led to greater and more consistent weight loss and management in many groups.
Treating obesity is challenging in today’s health care environment. It demands continued attention to create a common understanding of its impact as a disease with ongoing personal, social and economic implications. In-house weight loss programs using medically-prescribed weight loss supplements is a first step in recognizing and treating obesity as a disease, with benefits to individuals affected by obesity, as well as the medical staff and health care systems that treats them.