features ABOM diplomates

Recently, New York Times Reporter Gina Kolata shined a light on the treatment of patients with obesity. The front-page story was titled ‘Why Do Obese Patients Get Worse Care? Many Doctors Don’t See Past the Fat,’ and featured insight from ABOM Board Chairman Dr. Louis J. Aronne and ABOM Board Member Dr. Scott Kahan. It detailed the experiences that many patients with obesity endure when trying to seek treatment for health issues that may or may not be related to obesity. An accompanying sidebar offered advice for patients under the heading ‘What Obese Patients Should Say to Doctors.’

To see obesity medicine and the American Board of Obesity Medicine mentioned prominently in a major media outlet represents another milestone for this emerging field of medicine. The articles were picked up by other media outlets across North America from Alaska to Seattle and Ontario, Canada. Additionally, Associations Now, an online publication covering the news related to professional associations, used the Times articles as the basis for its own piece about the growth of obesity medicine in general.

Below, Dr. Aronne and Dr. Kahan react to the Times articles and think about where obesity medicine coverage could go from here.

What do you hope other physicians (not trained in obesity medicine) take away from the articles in the New York Times?

Dr. Kahan: I hope all physicians gain an awareness of what it’s like to have to engage in the healthcare system when you have obesity, particularly severe obesity. As described in the article, it can be awful and dehumanizing, as well as dangerous, as many don’t get appropriate care. Ultimately, I hope doctors see the importance of treating all patients equally and appropriately, regardless of weight, size, or shape.

Understandably, reporters can’t include every quote in every story. Is there something you said that was left “on the cutting room floor” that you wish had been included? 

Dr. Kahan: We spoke for an hour, and then followed up several times thereafter. There’s so much to say. But I think what’s perhaps most missing is an illustration of the sheer frequency of these humiliating and dangerous examples. We discussed many more patient examples, which obviously couldn’t fit in the space allowed, as well as some of the research data on this, which shows just how common stigma and negative experiences in the healthcare system are.

How significant is it to have a major media outlet like the New York Times shine a light on how patients affected by obesity are treated by the general medical community? And, at the same time, what is the significance of the New York Times including your quotes as ABOM diplomates and mentioning ABOM?

Dr. Kahan: It is very significant and not common at all. The fact that obesity got on the front page of the New York Times is surprising; the fact that the front page article was not on some genetic discovery about obesity or the like, but rather about the patient experience, is absolutely fascinating to me. It perhaps signals that we’re moving on from the “blame the victim, shame the victim” belief about obesity that has been ingrained in our culture.

And it is exciting that ABOM gets such a prominent nod. As [Dr. Aronne’s] research has shown, the growth of ABOM has been fantastic, and will undoubtedly make an important impact on medicine in the future.

The Times’ Kolata followed up her original stories with an analysis piece about fat shaming in response to comments made during the course of the presidential campaign. This article included quotes from ABOM Diplomate Dr. Kimberly Gudzune. What is the next article or series of articles you would like to see the New York Times publish related to obesity and obesity medicine?

Dr. Kahan: Gina Kolata deserves a lot of credit for taking on these important and under-hyped areas of obesity. She’s an important communicator for our field and our patients. Many outlets focus on the science; she’ll keep doing that, but I hope she especially continues to keep the focus on the patients.

Dr. Aronne: I would like to see an article on the neuroendocrine pathophysiology of weight regulation. This would help people to understand how overeating and our current lifestyle can be the cause of hypothalamic injury, “the ratcheting phenomenon of weight gain” and the “disease of obesity.” I think that message has not gotten out there, and whenever we do get it out, people recognize that a behavior can turn into a physical process that makes it very difficult to lose weight. They almost feel embarrassed because once they see it, they realize that they have been wrong in judging people with obesity. This is the key to building empathy, rather than hostility, toward the patient with obesity.