A Mass General physician is helping to lead an effort to establish a statewide obesity task force and a program to increase access to obesity treatment.

Throughout the United States, 93 million people are affected by obesity and, in Massachusetts alone, the rate of adult obesity continues to rise – from 10 percent in 1990 to more than 25 percent in 2018. To raise awareness about obesity and help curb this growing epidemic, health care leaders have introduced legislation establishing a statewide obesity task force and pilot care delivery program to increase access to obesity treatment – namely medication, working with a dietitian and lifestyle programs.

“Despite their efficacy, several treatments are still considered by some insurers to be a luxury instead of the necessity they should be.”

Helping to lead this charge is Angela Fitch, MD, associate director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. As part of the Coalition for Action on Obesity – a group of community and state leaders in health care – Dr. Fitch has been working with the YMCA and the National Obesity Action Coalition to help improve the health and well-being of Massachusetts residents.

“Thankfully, most employers in Massachusetts cover medication for obesity which, combined with lifestyle and surgical modifications, lead to better outcomes,” says Dr. Fitch. “Despite their efficacy, several treatments are still considered by some insurers to be a luxury instead of the necessity they should be.”

Building Healthier Communities

Mass General has a long tradition of working to build healthier communities and advocating on behalf of groups with unmet health care needs. Today, many of its physicians, nurses and staffers believe such advocacy should extend beyond treating illness and injury and also focus on prevention. In recent years, Mass General staffers have led the way on health policy issues ranging from protecting children from nicotine addiction and reducing gun violence to eliminating racial disparities in health care.

Read more about Mass General’s efforts to build healthier communities:
Mass General Opens Gun Violence Prevention Center
Health Policy Advocates on the March for Patients
Physician Sees Health Effects of Climate Change
Pediatrician Calls for Advocacy on E-Cigarette Epidemic

Recently, members of the Coalition for Action on Obesity presented, “Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment of Obesity,” at the Massachusetts State House in recognition of National Obesity Care Week. They discussed prevention, access and treatment of obesity, and another hurdle contributing to the ongoing epidemic: stigma.

“Obesity is not a disease of character or willpower; rather, it’s your body’s chemistry,” says Dr. Fitch. “We strive to teach people the skill power to be successful in managing both the disease and their lifestyle.”

Fully Benefiting from Obesity Treatment

When patients combine efforts such as medication with lifestyle, Dr. Fitch says, they experience 2-to-5 times as much weight loss success, a central tenant to Dr. Fitch’s advocacy for coverage of all obesity treatment options..

The coalition plans to further shape the statewide dialogue on obesity as a chronic treatable disease. By establishing the task force and pilot program, patients will be able to fully benefit from obesity treatment by combining accountability, structure and environmental stimulus control, producing maximum long-term results, Dr. Fitch says.

To learn more about how you can support Mass General’s efforts to strengthen communities, please contact us

This story was first published in MGH Hotline, a publication for employees and staff of Mass General.

(*Members of the Coalition for Action on Obesity pictured above the story are, from the left, Melinda Watman, RN, coalition chair; Angela Fitch, MD, associate director of the Mass General Weight Center; Tom Hubbard, vice president of Policy Research for the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation; and Caitlin Gibbs, senior director of Health Innovation for the Hockomock Area YMCA.)