Researchers Discuss Barriers to Getting Professional Weight Loss Help

Americans' Views on Obesity Changing
Americans’ Views on Obesity Changing
A lack of insurance coverage for weight-loss treatments as well as diagnoses of obesity are significant barriers.

Improving health insurance coverage for weight loss services could help individuals struggling with obesity lose weight, according to a new survey of non-physician health professionals.

This is the first study to examine health professionals’ perspectives on insurance coverage as a facilitator for or barrier to weight loss. While current insurance coverage is perceived as a barrier, a second study also found that 3 out of 4 patients are affected by obesity or overweight, yet only 48% of these patients with a BMI higher than 30 kg/m2 received a formal diagnosis of obesity.

Results from these 2 studies, which were presented at ObesityWeek 2016, should serve as a wake-up call. Current guidelines suggest obese patients participate in intensive, multidisciplinary weight loss programs. Such interventions are often delivered by health professionals.  

Scott Kahan, MD, MPH, spokesperson for The Obesity Society (TOS) and director at the National Center for Weight and Wellness, said these 2 barriers to care—no insurance for medical weight loss support and lack of initial diagnosis—can negatively affect individuals who are obese or overweight as they seek support. He explained that self-management strategies, such as following a commercial diet or increasing exercise, can help in some individuals, but most individuals with obesity can benefit from a comprehensive approach that includes health care professional support.

Insurance Issues

Ruchi Doshi, MPH, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional, web-based survey of health professionals in nutrition, nursing, behavioral/mental health, exercise, and pharmacy in 2014.

They found that 57% of the 450 health professionals surveyed believe that improved health insurance coverage for weight loss is a solution to greater access to care, and this finding cuts across all patient income levels.1 They also found that a quarter of health professionals view current insurance coverage as a weight-loss challenge.1

Studies of physicians have previously documented lack of reimbursement as a barrier to providing weight loss services. Now, this first-of-its-kind survey adds the input of non-physician health providers engaged in weight-loss services.1 Doshi said these findings may be of particular interest to endocrinologists. Recent guidelines recommend that weight management best occurs in teams. This means that endocrinologists should be partnering with other health professionals such as dietitians, mental health professionals, and nurses.

“While we know the challenges physicians face in providing weight management services, this study helps to clarify what those issues are for these other professionals.  Endocrinologists may not be aware of what the barriers are for these health professionals, and knowing this might improve experiences for patients receiving multidisciplinary care,” Doshi told Endocrinology Advisor.

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