Obesity in America has steadily risen since 1960 and is one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. As a leading cause of U.S. mortality, morbidity, disability, health care utilization and health care costs, obesity is a pervasive, chronic disease in need of new strategies for medical treatment and prevention.                  

The cause

Obesity is excess adipose tissue — an endocrine organ. Excess adiposity or obesity causes increased levels of circulating fatty acids and inflammation.

With an estimated 112,000 excess deaths per year associated with obesity, it puts individuals at risk for more than 30 chronic health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, gallstones, heart disease, fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, GERD, stress incontinence, heart failure, degenerative joint disease, birth defects, miscarriages, asthma and other respiratory conditions, and numerous cancers. Obesity-related health care costs in America reach $190 billion per year.

Going beyond weight-loss

For individuals with obesity, weight loss based solely on lifestyle changes can be very difficult to achieve and even more challenging to maintain. Supporting strategies, such as obesity medications, can be important tools for effectively treating obesity in some individuals.

“Given the complex nature of the disease, no single drug is likely to fix the epidemic.”

Given the complex nature of the disease, no single drug is likely to fix the epidemic. Additional research and development efforts are needed for obesity treatments.

Discrimination and mistreatment of individuals with obesity is widespread and, sadly, often considered socially acceptable. It’s a condition that is stigmatized because of the misperception that obesity is caused mostly by the modifiable behavioral factors of diet and physical inactivity.

Creating a lasting change

However, a rich body of literature demonstrates that obesity is a complex disease condition mediated through the interplay of multiple genetic, biologic, metabolic, behavioral, social, economic and cultural determinants.

With obesity on the rise in both the United States and around the world, ranking among major global health problems, it’s imperative that obesity be treated as a disease. Such a treatment must be a comprehensive multi-pronged approach, addressing the many determinants of obesity and utilizing a team of multi-disciplinary health care providers and social support, in order to reduce the medical, psychological, social and economic burden of this disease.