By: Marni Lun | Director of Professional Association Relations at Novo Nordisk | October 23rd, 2017

If someone told you they had been discriminated against because of their gender, race, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, age, or country of birth, you would say that was unacceptable. Agree? Yet for four out of ten adults in America today, discrimination is commonplace. These individuals live with obesity, and in their daily lives, they may face bias, depression, disparities in the workplace, low self-esteem, and poor body image. Don’t just take my word for it – read Patty’s story of living with obesity. This underscores why I’m proud to be working for Novo Nordisk, a healthcare company which has forged a long-term commitment to partnering with the community to change the harmful societal perceptions around obesity which exist today. Our goal is to work collaboratively to transform the way the world cares for and treats the chronic, progressive disease of obesity.

Despite being recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association in 2013, and many other leading medical organizations since then, we know that obesity is not accepted as such by society at large. This translates to astounding inadequacies in the care for people with the disease: from lack of specialists, lack of reimbursement and lack of education about this disease in medical schools to wide-spread discrimination against people with obesity and vastly unavailable and unattainable treatment options to those in need of care.

It’s vitally important that people living with obesity have access to medical management and evidence-based treatment for their disease. But medical treatment rates of obesity in the US are shockingly low, and in my opinion social norms play a crucial role in this. As an example, there are <2000 healthcare providers who systematically treat obesity, and more than 90 million adults with this disease. For comparison, let’s look at diabetes: there are almost 30 million adults with type 2 diabetes in the US and over 135,000 prescribers caring for this population. This is in part because I believe it is still acceptable in our culture to systematically discriminate against people with obesity, including by healthcare professionals and healthcare payers. According to the leading patient organization, the Obesity Action Coalition, obesity stigma remains “the last socially acceptable form of discrimination” in our society - from ‘fat jokes’ to the portrayal of obesity in the media, to medical neglect – people with obesity face a tremendous challenge getting quality care for a disease that is at the root of more than 50 medical disorders.

To address the barriers to obesity care, which are deeply rooted in social norms, Novo Nordisk researched and gathered thousands of insights about people with obesity. Our ambition is to break through the barriers preventing effective obesity care in the US, and we have prioritized our investments to tackle three core issues:

1. Moving the mindset of the broad community from acute weight loss to chronic weight management, fostering scientific understanding and stepping away from shame and blame

2. Educating and influencing to expand funding for care and coverage for obesity medications

3. Activating health care professionals to provide evidence-based care and motivating patients to seek treatment. We are acutely aware that the obesity paradigm cannot shift without addressing the root of the issue – pervasive obesity bias and stigma.

My favorite quote, which I heard from one of the world’s leading obesity experts, Dr. Arya M. Sharma, MD/PhD, FRCPC, is this: “Telling people with obesity to eat less and move more is like telling someone with depression to just cheer up. It demonstrates your lack of understanding.” Today we all understand and agree with the complexity of mental health conditions and no one would deny medical care to a person suffering with a mental health issue. We are not there with obesity. Our approach at Novo Nordisk is to go all in to break down the social norms of obesity bias and stigma that are at the root of the barriers to care. This requires smart, strategic investment and multi-stakeholder engagement and activation, both within and outside our company. We will continue in our long-term commitment to improve the lives of people with obesity by partnering with the community on education and advocacy, increasing access to care, and advancing medical management. I’m confident that the work we are doing together is moving the needle and beginning to shift these harmful social norms in society, and hope to look back in years to come and see the tangible difference we are making to improve the lives of people with excess weight or obesity - like Patty.

To learn more, please visit the following educational resources developed by Novo Nordisk:

  • Truth About Weight™, an educational resource to help patients prepare for a productive conversation with their health care provider, which provides information around the science behind weight loss, plus tools to help assess weight management history, motivations, and triggers
  • Rethink Obesity®, an online resource to help health care professionals support patients' weight-loss and management goals, providing comprehensive collection of materials, tools, and tips
  • Novo Nordisk WORKS™, an online resource to help employers understand the value of chronic weight management in the workplace, providing resources to help organizations improve employee health and decrease health-related costs.