Your Voice Makes a Difference – A Guide on How You Can Help Fellow Individuals Affected by Obesity

Obesity impacts one in three Americans. It is estimated that more than 93 million Americans are affected by obesity, with that number predicted to rise to 120 million in the next five years. Within this population, it is estimated that 8-10 million Americans are affected by severe obesity – a disease characterized by an individual being 100 pounds or more over their ideal body weight.

As any individual affected by obesity knows, obesity is a complex chronic disease. It is not simply a condition caused by overeating. Individuals affected often experience a wide variety of other obesity-related conditions including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleep apnea and cancer, which are serious medical risks. Adding to the challenge, individuals affected are often denied access to needed medical treatment (medical weight management and/or bariatric surgery) as some payors (insurance companies, etc.) and employers do not recognize obesity as a disease.

The OAC encourages individuals affected by obesity to educate themselves about obesity, its complications and treatments. We believe that educated individuals are best able to make decisions about their health care, and therefore are able to be healthier and happier.

We also encourage patients to support one another. There is no one better to share the social, emotional, physical and medical impact of obesity than someone who has been personally affected.

And finally, in addition to educating themselves and supporting others, the OAC encourages individuals to become advocates for change. You can impact how others view obesity and influence decision makers. Help us to eliminate the weight bias associated with this disease and make sure that obesity is treated as a disease, allowing for increased access to safe and effective medical treatment.

Here is a list of ways you can educate, support and advocate for individuals affected by obesity:
Educate Legislators

Elected United States officials at the local, state and federal level play a significant role in our society and healthcare. Often, the laws they create directly influence our day-to-day lives or regulate the medical treatments we receive. However, the majority of legislators know little about obesity, its effects and treatments.

As an American, it is your right to build a relationship with your elected officials and to advocate for positive change. It is through the voice of individuals affected by obesity, family members and medical professionals that legislators learn how current, pending and future laws impact Americans. The OAC encourages you to reach out to your legislators.

There are a variety of ways you can reach out to your legislators including mail, email, phone, attending town hall meetings or in-person. No matter how you choose to communicate, be as clear and concise as possible. Share your personal story with your elected official and encourage your family and friends to do the same. Keep in mind that you elect your lawmakers. They serve you and need to know issues important to you.


Educate Regulators

In addition to elected officials, those who work for the government agencies that regulate healthcare play a major role. Such agencies include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute for Health and Centers for Disease Control, among many others. Often times, regulatory agencies welcome participation through public comment periods on proposed policies. Public comments are a great opportunity to share your view on a proposed regulation.


Educate the Media

In the U.S., the media is tremendously influential. Encourage your local media to produce accurate stories on obesity. Do not hesitate to contact local newspaper reporters and/or television health reporters and share your story. Try to build a good relationship with the local media by providing accurate information and timely responses. If you see a story, television show or article and believe it was inaccurate, one-sided and/or added to the negative stigma of obesity, write or call the media outlet and share your concerns.

The general public is bombarded on a daily basis by images and stories from the media. Many of them are one-sided or inaccurate. Reach out to your local media and encourage them to portray obesity accurately. Subscribe to the Obesity Action Alert to stay up-to-date on the latest major media stories on obesity.


Educate Insurers and Employers

Does your health insurance company offer coverage for obesity treatment? If you have been seeking treatment, you may already know. If you do not know, find out by calling the member services number on your insurance card. If coverage is not offered or you believe the procedures to access care are too complicated, do not hesitate to write the medical director of the insurance company and ask for an explanation.

Often, your human resources department or benefits manager at work plays a major role in deciding which health conditions are covered by your health insurance (and which insurance policies are offered). Share the seriousness of obesity and the importance of obesity coverage with them and encourage them to seek out policies that offer obesity coverage as a benefit.

To provide your employer and insurance company with statistics demonstrating the effectiveness of obesity treatments, and to learn how to work with your insurance provider, please click here.


Educate the General Public

We have already discussed the influence the media has on the general public, but you can have an influence as well. It is important that the public receives accurate information on the risks and treatments of obesity, as well as the numerous related conditions (diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, etc.). You can be the source of such information by volunteering to speak on obesity at your place of worship, service club (Rotary Club, etc.) and/or your place of employment. Share your personal story; it will be tremendously influential.

Be Your Own Advocate

Learn as much as you can about obesity, its risks and treatments to best take care of yourself. Not only will you likely improve your own quality of life and quality of health, you will be an inspiration to others.

Join and Encourage Others to Join the OAC

Join and encourage others to join in our efforts to educate, advocate and support those affected by obesity.

For more information on membership, please click here.

The OAC is an IRS registered 501(c)3 National non-profit organization dedicated to giving a voice to those affected by obesity. The OAC was formed to build a nationwide coalition of those affected to become active advocates and spread the important message of the need for obesity education. To increase obesity education, the OAC offers a wide variety of free educational resources on obesity, severe obesity and childhood obesity, in addition to consequences and treatments of these conditions. The OAC also conducts advocacy efforts throughout the U.S. on both the National and state levels, and encourages individuals to become proactive advocates.

To achieve our mission, the OAC will:

  • Increase public education on obesity
  • Advocate for access to safe treatment
  • Strive to eliminate the negative stigma associated with obesity
  • Promote research in new and effective treatments
  • Empower individuals affected by obesity to take action


NEW Scholarship Opportunity for the 2015 ‘Your Weight Matters’ National Convention!

As a valued OAC Member, we want you to be among the first to know about a BRAND-NEW SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM to bring individuals to the OAC’s 4th Annual Your Weight Matters National Convention, taking place August 13-16 in San Antonio, Texas. Applicants who qualify for this scholarship opportunity MUST ACT FAST – the application deadline is FRIDAY, JUNE 19!

The OAC is proud to have partnered with Eisai, Inc. on their new Weigh In for Healthy Change Initiative, with a goal to raise the patient voice for the medical treatment of obesity. As part of this new initiative, we are pleased to launch the Weigh In for Healthy Change Scholarship Program, a new OAC program that will award up-to 10 full scholarships to attend the OAC’s National Advocacy Training Session, and providing full access to the OAC’s 2015 National Convention.

Who Should Apply for the Weigh In For Healthy Change Scholarship Program?

In the upcoming year, the OAC will focus its efforts on the passage of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA), a landmark legislation that expands coverage of pharmacological therapies and broadens the landscape of health professionals who are able to deliver quality care to individuals seeking to improve their weight and health. Weigh In for Healthy Change is an initiative designed to help raise the profile for the passage of TROA, so this scholarship program has been developed specifically for individuals who meet the following criteria:

  •  18-years of age or older (or traveling with a parent or legal guardian)
  • A desire to influence the Legislative Advocacy process
  • Individuals who have addressed their weight through medical weight management, intensive behavioral counseling under the care of a physician, or pharmacological treatment – either past or present
  • Applicants not eligible to receive a scholarship include: health professionals; individuals seeking CE credits; individuals who have already received formal legislative advocacy training conducted by the OAC; and relatives/members of the OAC staff, National Board Members, or OAC Committee Members.

If you meet the basic eligibility requirements and are interested in attending the OAC’s 2015 National Convention, we strongly encourage you to submit your application NO LATER than FRIDAY, JUNE 19. For complete details on this new scholarship program, please CLICK HERE.

To Submit Your Online Application for a Weigh In for Healthy Change Scholarship, please CLICK HERE

The Obesity Action Coalition: Celebrating 10 Years. Building Momentum for the Future!


The Beginning of the OAC

In planning for our 10th Anniversary celebration, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the Obesity Action Coalition’s early days. It is truly remarkable to see how the OAC has grown. The story of our beginning is definitely worth retelling as it set the foundation for what the OAC is today.

We were created shortly after a legislator stood up at a meeting about obesity and called for a group representing those who actually had the disease. He shared that he often heard from public health officials and healthcare providers about obesity, but never once had an individual affected by the disease of obesity walk into his office and asked for help. He said with every other disease, people with the condition advocate on their own behalf, and his message was very simple –an organization representing the interests of those affected by obesity was needed.

To drive home his point, he pushed his call for a new organization even further. He said he could pass a law today making a certain obesity treatment illegal (he used bariatric surgery as his example) and not a single person who needed the treatment would march on his front steps.

His message was heard loud and clear by OAC’s founding Board members, Robin Blackstone, MD, Christopher Still, DO and Georgeann Mallory, RD. The three of them committed to give those with obesity a voice and after some initial planning and securing of start-up funding, the OAC was born. I was hired to lead the professional staff and less than a month later, added our first two staff members, Kristy Kuna and James Zervios. In fact, the OAC’s first office (albeit for a very short time – just over a month) was my son’s playroom in my home just outside of Tampa, Fla.

While building the infrastructure, finding an office and expanding our board to include both a diverse base of individuals with obesity plus the healthcare providers who care for them, the timing of our start put us in the spotlight nearly instantly with our unique perspective of representing those with obesity. Medicare had recently started a review of whether or not to cover bariatric surgery under a national coverage decision and this issue dominated our early days. OAC helped secure numerous comments from those who actually experienced bariatric surgery and those who needed it. Before we even celebrated our first anniversary, Medicare announced national coverage for bariatric surgery – a major victory as it was the first time Medicare was going to cover a treatment for obesity.

Our early success with Medicare showed the power of the voice of those affected by obesity. Was it the sole factor in the decision? Of course not, but it added an important perspective showing that there were real people behind the data and statistics used to support coverage. It’s a perspective that we continue to offer today to local, state and federal policy makers, whether regulatory agencies or elected officials.

As our early advocacy efforts ramped up, so did our education efforts. It is my personal belief that in order to be an effective advocate, you need to be well educated, so these efforts often go hand in hand. From the first issue of our magazine (which was really a newsletter back then), to our first brochures, it was amazing to see the excitement around OAC’s educational materials. They were unique as they were presented from the perspective of those who had experienced obesity to help others with the disease, just as our materials are today.

Demand rose quickly and James, Kristy and I, in addition to creating the materials, actually personally filled orders every Friday – counting out brochures and either mailing and/or shipping via UPS. In fact, if you receive a bulk order of materials today, look at the UPS shipping label and you’ll see they still list the shipper as me (although others took over this responsibility years ago).

How did we support our initial efforts? it was primarily through membership. I’m proud to say I was the first member of the OAC. Securing members was a bit more difficult in the early days, because we were asking people to join on the basis of the potential of the organization, as we didn’t have the history or wide variety of membership benefits that we offer today.

When I think about where we are today with more than 50,000 members, I’m not sure I could have imagined that amount in our early days. One of the things I’m most proud of is that many of our early members are still involved today – many serving as active volunteers and in leadership roles.

OAC was created to give a voice to those affected by obesity, and as we look from our earliest days to the present, I’m so very proud of how far we have come. This isn’t to say there isn’t still more work to be done, but the strong foundation of the organization created 10 years ago has set us up for future success.