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Why Treatment Matters

Imagine a disease as big a health hazard as smoking, as deadly as opioid addiction, and that worsens over 230 chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.

Shouldn’t this disease get serious attention from healthcare professionals and shouldn’t people with this disease get timely effective treatment? Obviously yes if the disease is cancer or a stroke. But this is not true for obesity.

Why? Because most of the public believes that obesity results from a lack of willpower and too many healthcare professionals act in discriminatory ways based on people’s size. The consequence is that only 10 percent of people with obesity get help from medical professionals and too many who go untreated pay the price in joint problems, trouble sleeping, breathing issues, and many other serious health problems.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are a variety of safe and effective treatment options. And medical societies, including the American Medical Association (AMA), agree that obesity is a complex disease requiring treatment. The key is for Americans – including health professionals, insurers and policymakers – to agree that obesity is serious and treatment matters. Here are the reasons why.

Obesity Has Reached Epidemic Levels

When almost half of the nation’s adults are living with a disease that is an epidemic. This is the case for obesity today. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42 percent of US adults – an estimated 108 million people – are now living with the disease. Of these adults, one in ten (9.2 percent) has severe obesity, meaning they are at high risk for lower life expectancy and numerous chronic diseases.

Obesity Worsens the Complications of Other Chronic Diseases

Obesity is not only a serious chronic disease. It is also a “co-morbid condition” for more than 230 chronic diseases – meaning that as the amount of excess weight increases, these other diseases worsen in severity. Due to this direct link between obesity and chronic disease, an estimated 400,000 people die from obesity every year in the U.S. This makes obesity the second leading cause of preventable death after tobacco.

Obesity Is the Most Widespread Chronic Disease

When asked to name the most common chronic diseases in the US, public health officials often do not include obesity, citing instead heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease. Yet, when comparing the number of people who have these diseases, obesity impacts the greatest number of Americans. Here are the numbers:


Obesity > 4 in 10 adults

Heart Disease
1 in 20 has coronary artery disease

108 million

37.3 million have diabetes

108 million

Chronic Kidney Disease
35.5 million have CKD

108 million

16.9 currently living with a cancer

108 million

Chronic Lung Disease
12.5 million are diagnosed with COPD

108 million

Alzheimer’s Disease
6.7 million are living with Alzheimer’s

108 million

About 795,000 have a stroke each year

Obesity Is a Matter of Health Equity

Obesity disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities and is now one of the most serious health equity issues facing the nation. Due to higher rates of obesity among communities of color, Black adults are 1.5 times as likely to experience stroke, 40 percent are more likely to have high blood pressure and 60 percent are more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than White adults. Additionally, Hispanics are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes than Whites, Asian Americans are 40 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes, and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders are 2.5 times more likely to have diabetes and 3.9 times as likely to experience a stroke.

Everyone Pays the Price for Untreated Obesity

In terms of dollars spent on medical care, lost wages, absenteeism, lost productivity and other expenditures, the cost of obesity is much too high. The latest estimate for the national cost of obesity in direct and indirect expenditures is $1.72 trillion a yearmore than what Social Security paid in retirement benefits in 2022.

Treating Obesity Improves Health Outcomes

The AMA and other medical societies recommend treating obesity for a reason. There is substantial evidence that even a modest weight loss (a drop of 5-10 percent) produces significant health improvements when a person has overweight or obesity.

Here are some examples:

The bottom line is this: obesity is a serious yet treatable chronic disease, just like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. This is why it is time to give all adult Americans with obesity the same level of attention and care as those with other chronic conditions. Otherwise, all of us will continue to pay the price of untreated obesity in higher rates of disability, chronic disease, premature deaths and the nation’s escalating healthcare costs.

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National Consumers League
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T: (202) 835-3323