As obesity becomes more prevalent among the U.S. population—more than a third of adults and one in five children are now considered to be obese—the effects on society are harder to ignore. Health conditions that can be tied to obesity include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems and certain cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Children who are obese are more likely to become obese adults, and obesity and disease risk factors in adulthood are likely to be more severe. The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in this country is more than $200 billion. Medical costs for people who have obesity are approximately $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.
In 2013, the American Medical Association began recognizing obesity—defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above—as a disease. The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, establishes national health objectives with 10-year targets. One of its Healthy People 2010 goals was to reduce the proportion of adults who were obese to 15 percent. No state met that objective; in fact, the proportion of adults age 20 and over who were obese rose from 23 percent to 34 percent, according to data from 2012. To put the dangers of obesity in perspective, consider the numbers in relation to the opioid epidemic. The New York Times reported that overdoses from opioids were the leading cause of death last year for Americans under 50 years old, killing approximately 64,000 people. The CDC estimates 112,000 deaths per year that are associated with obesity.
The Obesity Society, which refers to obesity as one of the greatest public health challenges of our time, notes that it is a condition “that has often been stigmatized because of the perception that it is caused mostly by the modifiable behavioral factors of diet and physical inactivity. Nevertheless, a rich body of research demonstrates that obesity is a complex disease condition mediated through the interplay of multiple genetic, biologic, metabolic, behavioral, social, economic and cultural determinants.” The organization suggests that reducing the burden of this disease requires a team of multidisciplinary healthcare providers. Healthcare professionals play a key role in working with patients battling obesity, and pharmacists and pharmacy schools are uniquely positioned to prompt change through prevention and treatment efforts.