The pinpoint focus on COVID-19 has shifted attention from other critically important public health issues that continue to affect the population, including obesity.
As another unimaginable year ends, COVID-19 remains in the spotlight, and with good reason. However, this pinpoint attention has shifted focus from other critically important public health issues, including obesity, which continue to affect the greater population.
COVID-19 is noteworthy for good reason: it’s contagious, deadly and still not completely understood. Vaccine hesitancy, new variants and a death rate that has surpassed American deaths from the Spanish Flu and World War I, World War II and the Vietnam Wars combined absolutely warrants a need for vigilance and evidence-based research to allow for informed decision making.
Still, other major public health issues, namely gun violence and opioid use, both leading causes of death, continue to plague communities nationwide. However, rarely is there a mention in any forum on what is arguably the biggest health crisis of our time: Obesity.
Unlike many other diseases or public health issues, obesity doesn’t strike fast and hard like COVID-19 or gun injuries. And while obesity is unequivocally linked to a disturbingly high death rate, it is much more likely that diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular disease is listed as a cause of death. The result is that vital public awareness, research funding and urgency to address obesity is severely lacking, as worryingly demonstrated by a consistent rise in obesity rates, particularly over the past decade.1
Because obesity is not deemed as shocking or newsworthy as other epidemics, it may be misinterpreted that it is not a problem or that it affects only those who have it. Nothing could be further from the truth and the human and financial costs are nothing short of devastating. People with obesity are at increased risk for “all-causes of death,” and it is directly linked to five of the top 10 causes of death in the U.S.2 The financial impact on everyone is equally astounding and measured in the billions of dollars.
Until obesity is recognized as the certain killer it is, related illnesses and deaths from diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular and other diseases will continue to rise. If something does not change soon, it is a near certainty that more than half of the U.S. population will have obesity within the next few years. That means we are on the precipice of time when not having obesity or being sick will be unique. This is not only unthinkable in developed countries, it is also unsustainable.
Instigating change is hard for both patients and physicians but it must be done. Make it a point to have candid and compassionate conversations with patients who have or are bordering on obesity. Let them know the hard-to-face outcomes and the options that are available to them, including support. Let’s make 2022 the year the beginning of the end of obesity!