Trends in Weight Management: A Closer Look at Medical Weight Loss

The CDC identifies more than one-third of adult Americans as obese. That’s 78.6 million people at an elevated risk for heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes and certain types of cancer–some of the leading causes of preventable death. About one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese. Childhood obesity is now the number one health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking. A study from Harvard’s School of Public Health estimates obesity may account for as much as $190 billion annually or 21 percent of all U.S. medical expenses.

Stats like these are disturbing, yet not surprising given the country’s ongoing battle with obesity and the extraordinarily high cost to treat it.

With approximately 45 million Americans dieting each year and spending $33 billion on weight loss products, there is no shortage of options to help aid weight management. Yet, for the critically obese, weight management is more than just shaving off pounds for the mirror, it can be a matter of life and death.

The role of a physician or medical professionally-supervised approach, a key ingredient to medical weight loss, would seem an ideal solution for many battling obesity and its many complications. Let’s take a closer look.

A Hands on Approach

In 2013, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease. Like any chronic illness, it seems more likely that patients will have success managing it with the support of a physician or medical professional leading the charge–a big selling point for medical weight loss. Insurers jumped on board with many opting to cover medical weight loss treatments for patients under the Affordable Care Act.

Treatment is usually provided in a clinical setting with a licensed healthcare professional such as a doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, registered dietitian or a psychologist, specially trained in treating weight conditions. The patient receives a thorough medical examination, often including blood work and an EKG, to help evaluate the individual’s current health and determine any existing comorbidities commonly related to obesity that may be present and affect the course of treatment. Many patients begin treatment with undiagnosed diabetes, high cholesterol, thyroid disorders, abnormal liver tests or obstructive sleep apnea.

Once the physical examination and medical history is thoroughly assessed, the health care professional and patient work closely to determine the best course of treatment and develop a highly personalized plan that can include medication, supplements and meals.

One Size Does Not Fit All

A core philosophy of physician-supervised weight loss programs is the understanding that one size does not fit all. Every patient comes in with a different medical history and physiology, individualized weight loss goals,unique personality traits, different life experiences. It’s not at all surprising that what works for one patient may not work for another. One patient may be dealing with a slow metabolism where another needs to change 25 years of unhealthy eating habits.

Medical weight loss programs carefully factor in a patient’s individualized traits to design a personalized treatment plan to suit those patient’s needs.

It’s thought that this more focused, personalized approach to treatment will not only help the patient achieve immediate weight loss but more importantly, maintain their healthy weight for the long-term.

In it for the Long Run

Whether you’re trying to lose ten pounds or 85, it’s widely understood that one of the biggest challenges of successful weight loss is keeping it off. Nearly 65 percent of dieters return to their pre-dieting weight within three years. There is a lengthy body of research and articles examining why it is so difficult to keep weight off after losing it. One 2011 study pointed to possible metabolic and hormonal changes that occur after weight loss. Others theorize it could be something as obvious as a sedentary lifestyle or not enough exercise.

Research shows that physician-supervised weight loss programs are an effective way to lose weight and maintain weight loss over time. To help patients achieve and maintain their weight loss goals for life, medical professionals incorporate healthy lifestyle changes throughout the weight loss process.

Patients are educated about food selection, physical activity, healthier ways to relieve stress and get more sleep and in some cases even receive counseling. The idea is to get all of the avenues of the body reset and aligned to function in harmony with one another in the hopes of creating weight success to last a lifetime.

Much of the appeal of medical weight loss lies in the support patients receive from having a clinical hand firmly embedded in what is often a long, difficult road. What if that support was taken a step further?

Weight Loss in the Digital Age

Researchers from a 2012 pilot study found that health coaches could play an important role in aiding the fight against obesity. In the study, obese individuals who were supported by a professional health coach or peer coach lost clinically significant amounts of weight.

The benefits of a customized weight loss coaching software supporting a medically managed weight loss program we feel would elevate patient support and results further.

Patients would have the added advantage of being able to communicate with a care provider in real-time during moments of crisis, via text message, email, by phone or an app. A simple mealtime question that could potentially throw a patient of course can easily be texted to a care provider for feedback. A patient having a rough day who is tempted to console with food or who simply needs encouragement to stay the course, would have an immediate source of support at their fingertips.

Technology is an integral part of chronic disease management today and we’re seeing the evidence that patients can benefit greatly from its applications. Incorporating technology more readily into weight management programs can potentially leverage outcomes for patients long-term helping to curb the obesity endemic in this country.