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A Path to Progress: Perspectives on Obesity Research and Treatment

The “Path to Progress: Perspectives on Obesity Research and Treatment” panel discussion addressed a complex health issue that is receiving much-needed attention because of the significant impacts of COVID-19 on people living with obesity.

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Key Takeaways

  • According to the CDC, the percentage of adults in the U.S. living with obesity reached 42.4% in 2018. Individuals who live with obesity are at greater risk for many other serious chronic diseases in addition to COVID-19. For example, in the case of COVID-19,  a study of in-hospital COVID-19 diagnoses from March – December 2020 showed 50.8% of individuals were living with obesity, and that risks for hospitalization, intensive care unit admission, and death increased for individuals with a higher body mass index.

  • Panelists agreed our nation needs to take additional steps to destigmatize obesity, including creating an environment where people who live with obesity feel comfortable talking with their physician about obesity and its potential impact on their overall health. Dr. Harmon encouraged physicians to partner closely with their patients: “we need to establish that when people come to us that happen to be [living with] obesity as a comorbidity, that’s not the cause of all their comorbidities.”

  • Panelists discussed efforts to reduce the incidence of obesity, including recommending treatment as soon as the condition begins to develop.  The panelists recommended that prevention efforts focus on childhood and early adulthood, in addition to working with women prior to pregnancy. They also discussed the challenges faced by communities of color, including Dr. Messiah’s work with Latino youth living with obesity that highlights the need to involve the entire family in obesity treatment to increase the prospect of a successful health outcome.

  • Diane Ty, Director of the Portion Balance Coalition at Georgetown University, discussed the Eat for You campaign, which offers tools and educational resources to talk about eating habits and portion sizes. Her data show the challenge of recognizing appropriate portion sizes, which have grown by up to 130% since the 1970s and have contributed to the growth in rates of obesity.

  • Among available interventions to help individuals living with obesity, panelists discussed tools to recognize portion balance size and reformulation of food packaging to make nutritional data more accessible, as well as prescribing medications and surgical treatments, if needed. Dr. Hansen recommended that future biomedical and psychobiology focus on understanding causal mechanisms to learn how best to help those living with obesity.

Discussion Participants

The discussion was moderated by Guillermo (Willy) Prado, PhD, vice provost for faculty affairs, dean of the graduate school, professor, nursing and health studies, public health sciences, and psychology, University of Miami. The panelists were:

  • Linda Goler Blount, MPH, president & CEO, Black Women’s Health Imperative
  • Barbara C. Hansen, PhD, professor, internal medicine and pediatrics, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida
  • Gerald E. Harmon, MD, president, American Medical Association
  • Sarah E. Messiah, PhD, MPH, professor of epidemiology, human genetics and environmental sciences, director, Center for Pediatric Population Health, University of Texas
  • Diane Ty, MBA, MA, Portion Balance Coalition at Business for Impact, Georgetown University, McDonough School of Business

Speaker Biographies