Key Takeaways

  • People of every size deserve dignity, respect, and safe and affordable access to the full continuum of obesity care.

  • Living with obesity can put you at risk for a number of chronic diseases, from heart problems to type 2 diabetes.

  • For National Obesity Care Week (February 27 to March 5), we're encouraging older adults living with obesity to educate others about this chronic condition and to learn how to be your own advocate.

Nearly 100 million Americans are living with obesity, including 43% of adults over age 60. And the rate of this chronic condition isn't subsiding, in fact, it's increasing. Obesity is linked to more than 200 serious health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and strokes, as well as a leading comorbidity for serious cases of COVID-19.

If you’re living with obesity, you should know treatment and help is available. Older adults (and their caregivers) should feel empowered to take action to improve their mental and physical health. 

Five ways to create a supportive environment to promote better care for older adults living with obesity.

  1. Recognizing Obesity as a Disease. Despite being officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 2013, obesity continues to be saddled with negative misperceptions. Often this stigma–not science–shapes how older adults are treated, both medically and generally among their social circles. Obesity is a chronic condition associated with increased risk of falling, sleep apnea, diabetes, hypertension, and many other health conditions. Learn how you can reinforce scientific findings and help create more awareness in order to stave off the stigma associated with obesity.
  2. Fighting Against Weight Bias. Did you know that only one U.S. state–Michigan–makes it illegal to discriminate based on weight? Some U.S. cities like San Francisco and Binghamton, N.Y., have passed legislation preventing weight discrimination. Bias against overweight and obese individuals occurs in large and small ways every day, negatively impacting health and quality of life for all people with obesity. Bias against patients with weight issues can make a health care provider less kind, supportive, and compassionate—which compromises the level of care they deliver. While changing deeply embedded cultural attitudes about obesity could take time, contacting your local or state legislator to enact laws that ban weight-based discrimination can happen now. Ask them to initiate or support legislation that prohibits weight bias.
  3. Promoting Obesity Prevention Strategies. Repeating the phrase, “eat less and move more” is not a sufficient prevention program for obesity. As a society, we must continue to develop a full portfolio of science-based obesity prevention programs—and then make those proven programs readily available to all. Obesity disproportionately impacts communities of color. Nearly half (49.6%) of Black and 44.8% of Latino Americans are living with obesity, compared to 42.2% of white Americans, putting communities of color at higher risk of other serious chronic diseases. Millions of diverse older Americans living with obesity deserve access to the highest standard of care and scientifically proven treatments for prevention.
  4. Creating Equitable Access to Obesity Care. Most diseases and illnesses have numerous options for treatment, yet obesity care remains piecemeal and fractured, and is often dependent on your ZIP code or employer’s health plan. Obesity impacts more than 4 in 10 Americans with a disproportionate toll on communities of color. Obesity care also remains out of reach for tens of millions of older Americans because Medicare fails to recognize obesity as a serious disease—creating a gap in the full continuum of care for all older adults living with obesity. It’s time to recognize obesity as a serious, chronic disease so we can build a holistic and equitable approach to obesity prevention and management.
  5. Demanding More Science-Based Obesity Treatments. We have all seen the ads for snake oil treatments claiming you can hack your metabolism to lose 50 pounds in a month. Successful and safe obesity care and weight management requires a combination of science-based treatment options, community strategies, and comprehensive continuums of care. Keep an eye out on the policy discussion that's demanding robust, science-based health support systems and treatments. At a recent roundtable, participants discussed systemic barriers to care and examined policy changes that could have the greatest impact on treatment and coverage gaps, risk factors, chronic disease management, stigma, and inequities. Meanwhile, if you’re an older adult living with obesity, there are safe and effective anti-obesity medications that can be combined with exercise to provide added support when conventional weight loss approaches are not enough. A balanced, holistic treatment plan can help improve your mood and outlook while empowering you to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Good health and happiness are things we all deserve, at every age. These are just five ways you can take active role in creating a supportive environment and to promote better care for yourself. The key is to call attention to these issues, stay engaged, and demand action in ways that make a difference for you and others living with obesity.