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A Battle Plan to Fight Obesity

Insurance companies are weighing the cost of covering new anti-obesity medicines, and many seem poised to withdraw coverage. As is often the case, these considerations focus narrowly on short-term costs and don’t account for a fuller picture of the cost savings that weight management could help achieve.

Writing in the Columbus Dispatch, J.Z. Bennett expands the conversation with a look at obesity’s impact on economic productivity in Ohio. He offers solutions that flow from his dual roles as a social scientist and pastor:

Obesity is a massive strain on our workforce, responsible for keeping more than 32,000 Ohioans unemployed according to a study by the Buckeye Institute. Eliminating the disease would lead to more gainful employment, which translates to more self-respect and hope, which reinforces healthier behaviors and promotes prosperity.

The first step we must all take is to approach obesity with empathy and understanding. People struggling with obesity face complex challenges, and so we must resist the temptation to blame or stigmatize.

This is a complex disease with many factors — genes, environment, nutrition and activity —all working in concert. Compassion can create an environment where individuals feel supported and empowered to make positive changes in their lives.

From there, we can start to build a supportive community around healthier lifestyles and provide social support, encouragement, and resources for individuals to make sustainable changes. Solving this disease is going to take all of us. A collective effort must include community and faith leaders, healthcare professionals, policymakers, educators, social scientists, and, crucially, employers across the state.

Encouraging personal responsibility and self-determination helps individuals develop the motivation and commitment necessary to make lasting lifestyle changes.

Education, access to resources, and skill-building can empower individuals to take control of their health.

To combat obesity effectively, it’s vital to implement comprehensive strategies that address multiple factors contributing to the problem. These may include promoting healthier diets, increasing physical activity, improving access to affordable nutritious food, providing education on nutrition and portion control, and creating supportive environments for healthy choices. Collaboration between various sectors, including healthcare, education, urban planning, and public policy, is key to creating sustainable solutions.

We also need policymakers to act. The Buckeye study found that obesity increases Medicaid costs by hundreds of millions of dollars and depletes state revenues by another $19 million each year.

Ohio’s new budget increased funding for Medicaid and considered expanded coverage for certain obesity treatments, which are an important part of the solution. At the national level, bipartisan legislation has been advanced in Congress with similar aims to expand treatment and counseling, remove barriers to FDA-approved medications, and invest in new research and education.

J.Z. is an assistant professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, and a preacher at various churches in the Cincinnati area. You can read the full op-ed here.