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Op-Ed | Health Center calls for federal action to prevent obesity and expand access to treatment

Op-Ed | Health Center calls for federal action to prevent obesity and expand access to treatment

For nearly a quarter-century, obesity has persisted as a severe public health crisis despite efforts from successive administrations and lawmakers. Initially declared an epidemic by the CDC in 1999, the issue has persisted, particularly affecting communities of color already grappling with disproportionate levels of access to medications and access to care.  This cycle of obesity exacerbates chronic illnesses, strains healthcare systems and inflates national healthcare costs, which now stand at a staggering $1.72 trillion or 9.3% of the GDP. 

The complexity of obesity is compounded by its association with numerous other health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke, among others. Obesity rates among seniors have doubled since the 1990s, showcasing its pervasive reach across age groups. While the epidemic impacts all demographics, communities of color face disproportionate burdens.

As we grapple with its escalating prevalence, the need for preventive strategies and individual’s adoption of healthful lifestyles has become increasingly evident. Yet, amidst these efforts lies an often-overlooked facet: the urgent demand for effective treatment. While prevention remains paramount, addressing the substantial population already affected by obesity is equally imperative. To confront this crisis comprehensively, we must acknowledge and prioritize access to care, health literacy needs, prevention and treatment as the four pillar essentials in our battle against obesity. Treating obesity is critical in the prevention of comorbidities. For example, one recent study has shown that certain AOMs (anti-obesity medications) can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases linked to obesity by up to 20%. 

The economic toll is immense, with low-income individuals bearing the brunt due to limited access to healthcare resources. However, recent research offers a glimmer of hope. Studies highlight the potential of anti-obesity medications (AOMs) to significantly reduce cardiovascular risks, potentially saving billions in healthcare spending. Expanding access to AOMs through Medicare Part D presents a straightforward and cost-effective solution, projected to save lives and cut spending by $175 billion within a decade.

The urgency to act is clear. Congressional leaders and the Biden administration must unite to prioritize expanding access to AOMs through Medicare Part D. This not only offers a pragmatic approach to curb the obesity epidemic but also aligns with moral imperatives to alleviate suffering and safeguard future generations from escalating crises. Failure to act risks deepening the crisis and imposing heavier burdens on current and future generations.

**This article was published in the BronxTimes. Click here to view.