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  • Obesity Treatment:One Size Does Not Fit All
  • Karin Kwambai

I am obese. That phrase is actually very hard for me to say out loud. Saying it feels as if I am standing at an “obesity anonymous” meeting, except there is nothing anonymous about being fat. Everyone knows it. I often feel that it is the first and only thing people notice about me. I’ve been overweight, chubby, fat my entire life. My mom enrolled me in Weight Watchers when I was 12 years old; I learned to use Molly McButter in front of her and sneak oatmeal cream pies when she wasn’t looking. I’ve learned a lot of maladjusted behaviors around food over a lifetime of trying to lose weight. I’ve tried meal replacement shakes, pills, souping, juicing, and the “Master Cleanse”—a diet of lemonade with cayenne pepper and maple syrup. All of these tactics only messed up my mind and body even more. The summer before my freshman year of college, I literally ate only an apple a day because I was so worried about not making new friends because of my weight. It was not about being healthy; it was about being accepted.

Twenty years of blame and shame later, and despite mixed reviews on its success, Weight Watchers is still the first recommendation for weight loss from my doctor, along with Medifast, a 1000 calorie a day diet, or bariatric surgery. My naturopath told me to make my smoothies and spinach salads smaller, and my therapist told me I think too much about exercise and should “just do it.” I have gone many rounds with Weight Watchers and had some success. I have also had success losing weight by tracking food intake and exercise on apps like My Fitness Pal. But like all attempts at losing weight, following medical advice works until it stops working, and the weight comes back—plus some.

Obesity as a Disease

I recently sought treatment with an Obesity Specialist, but after an inspiring complimentary consult where she explained her holistic approach, I found out that my health insurance won’t cover the cost because the diagnostic code for obesity is excluded from my coverage. I have heard that the Affordable Care Act is supposed to impact insurance plans covering the cost of obesity treatment, but that has not been the case for me. In fact, I’ve been forced to pay out of pocket several times for labs that doctors feel the need to run, despite my urging that I am not diabetic. Trust me, I say; I know what diabetes looks like. I have watched family die and seen clients suffer, and I am earning my Masters in Public Health. I had been hopeful that the recent classification of obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association would open treatment doors, but it has not. In fact, I’m concerned that it will close doors for treatment opportunities because of how insurance [End Page 104] companies decide what medical costs they will cover. Obesity seems to be a four–letter word for health insurance companies. My insurance plan will cover prescription medications for high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol, but it won’t cover weight loss medications. Where is the incentive to address weight loss before potentially developing a life–threatening disease? I believe that obesity is a disease; I just don’t trust how the healthcare system will handle the responsibility of addressing it as such.

In fact, the debate on whether obesity is a disease or a lifestyle is a frustrating one for me. If we claim lifestyle is the cause of obesity, it means that there is only one factor causing obesity. If that were true, then the commonly prescribed solution of “eat less, move more” would be more effective. The reality is, there is no single cause or cure for obesity; there is no one–size–fits–all treatment approach. It is a complex problem that deserves a complex response in the forms of primary, secondary and tertiary public health interventions. I am hopeful that classifying obesity as a disease will lead to more disease model research...


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pp. 104-107
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