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Obesity Management Belongs In Primary Care



sharma-obesity-doctor-kidNo matter if and when obesity prevention efforts bear fruit, there are currently well over 6,000,000 Canadian adults and children, who could benefit from obesity management today.

Even, if one were to limit more intense obesity management (such as behavioral, pharmacological and/or surgical treatments) to those with more severe obesity (Edmonton Obesity Staging System 2+), this would still overwhelm the capacity of existing tertiary care systems.

Thus, as William Dietz and colleagues point out in their recent article in the 2015 Lancet Obesity Series, even the majority of severe (or complicated) obesity will still need to be managed in primary care.

“Care for adults with severe obesity has generally been delivered in tertiary-care centres. Although such programmes are efficacious, they are poorly suited to address the number of patients with severe obesity. Alternative approaches for the management of adults with severe obesity include primary-care settings or community settings to deliver care.”

However,

“Transition from efficacy to effectiveness will require substantial and challenging changes in how primary care is delivered. Practices often lack the organisational structure, such as patient registries and methods for systematic tracking to assess clinical interventions, care teams to manage patients with chronic illnesses, or health information systems that support the¬†use of evidence-based practices at the point-of-care to provide longitudinal care for chronic illnesses.”

Where they exist, these structures are already at capacity dealing with other chronic diseases including diabetes, hypertension, COPD and other lifelong disorders.

Even if many of these problems are directly related to excess weight (or would at least substantially improve with weight loss), most primary care practitioners have yet to take on the challenge of managing obesity (not just the obese patient).

Surely enthusiasm for obesity management will increase in primary care settings as more effective obesity treatments become available – making these available to those who stand to benefit, needs to be a key priority of health care system planners and payers.

The fact that many payers chose not to cover obesity treatments by delegating this to the category of “lifestyle”, shows that they have yet to take obesity seriously as a chronic disease in its own right.

It may also demonstrates their biases and discrimination of people living obesity – after all the same payers have no problem shelling out billions of dollars to treat other “lifestyle” disorders like strokes, heart attacks, type 2 diabetes or COPD.

This is where health policies can and should make a difference to people living with obesity – the sooner, the better.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

1 Comment

  1. The decision to pay or not for obesity treatment might come down to the lack of efficacy: most insurances won’t pay for treatments that have not been proven to work (no matter the disease).

    It seems cruel to people who have the disease (not just obesity, but all uncovered treatments), but resources are limited, so I think that we are better off investing in research than in ineffective treatment.

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