Obesity is a global epidemic. Nearly 35 percent (78.6 million) of American adults now suffer from obesity, according to a 2014 study by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control.
“It is extremely important that we help our patients to address their weight issues successfully,” says Dr. Chinyere Ofonagoro of Premier’s Internal Medicine Division. “Overweight and obesity are implicated in a such a long list of negative medical conditions… some of the leading causes of preventable death.” These include heart disease, type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, arthritis, stroke and a number of cancers.
“We make it a priority to help patients understand the impact of obesity on their overall health and the importance of weight loss,” Ofonagoro says. “When a patient comes to us for an appointment, has a weight problem and does not raise the issue, we take the opportunity to counsel them on how to manage their problem, set goals and begin their journey to better health, beginning with education.”
Obesity can be caused by a constellation of factors, not just overeating and failing to exercise. “Certainly those are pieces of the problem,” says Ofonagoro, “but so are genetic predisposition, environmental factors, psychological and situational stressors.”
“We explain that weight loss and weight management are comprised of three major areas: diet, exercise and, if required, medication. We explain how weight loss and maintenance will reduce the risk of negative medical complications.”
Avoiding obesity-caused complications also avoids high medical bills. “Medical costs associated with obesity are staggering: an estimated $147 billion a year,” says Ofonagoro. On a per person basis, obese individuals’ medical bills paid for by third parties have been $1,429 higher than those of normal weight individuals since 2008. “That information can be a real eye-opener. For some patients that provides a real incentive to become more fit,” Ofonagoro says.
The health care team follows up education with recommendations for exercise and what type of diet might work for the individual. “If the patient asks for a referral to a weight loss program, we provide that.”
When a patient comes back for subsequent appointments, “we reinforce the individual’s achievements and explain the health benefits they have already achieved, such as lowered blood pressure,” Ofonagoro says. “This helps to keep them committed to the goals they set.”
“But what is key is the constant reinforcement and support from the health care team, incorporating family, friends and significant others,” she says. “It goes a very long way toward helping the individual stay the course.”