The new Obesity Bill of Rights outlines eight rights for people with obesity to ensure unbiased medical care. However, some obesity advocates say it fails to address the real issues and promotes weight loss product sales.
On January 31, the National Consumers League (NCL) and National Council on Aging (NCOA) announced the first-ever Obesity Bill of Rights to address the needs of people with high BMIs. The document establishes eight rights for people with obesity to promote non-weight-biased medical care so they may be screened, diagnosed, counseled, and treated according to medical guidelines.
Supported by over 40 consumer, aging, and public health organizations, including Weight Watchers, the Obesity Bill of Rights aims to eliminate widespread weight bias and ageism within the health care system and among health insurance companies.
Along with the new Bill of Rights, the two advocacy groups launched a grassroots movement called Right2ObesityCare to push for changes in federal, state, and employer policies that ensure these rights are integrated into medical practice.
"Our goal with the Obesity Bill of Rights is to define quality obesity care as the right of all adults and empower those with the disease to ask questions and demand treatment without discrimination or bias regardless of their size or weight," said Sally Greenberg, Chief Executive Officer of the National Consumers League, in an NCOA press release.
The Obesity Bill of Rights aims to ensure people with obesity have the right to:
- Accurate, Clear, Trusted, and Accessible Information on obesity as a treatable chronic disease.
- Respect by all members of the medical care team when screening, counseling, and providing treatment.
- Make Treatment Decisions about health goals and obesity care in consultation with the individual's health providers.
- Treatment from Qualified Health Providers, including counseling and ongoing care from health providers with expertise in obesity care.
- Person-Centered Care that is personalized, respects the individual's cultural beliefs, meets their specific health goals, and considers the person's whole health and not just their weight status.
- Accessible Obesity Treatment from Health Systems, so those with severe obesity receive care in settings that allow for privacy, using size and weight-accessible equipment and diagnostic scans.
- Coverage for Treatment with access to the full range of treatment options for the person's health condition as prescribed by the individual's health provider.
- Older Adults to Receive Quality Obesity Care that comprises a respectful, comprehensive care approach consistent with their personalized medical needs.
The Right2ObesityCare online hub will focus on national and state policy efforts and developing national "obesity goals." The advocacy groups hope to implement the Obesity Bill of Rights by December 31, 2029, and create models that officials can use to incorporate it into state law.
Obesity advocates speak out
While the nation's first Obesity Bill of Rights appears promising, some advocates believe that it's focused more on driving sales for obesity-related products than tackling the widespread weight bias and ageism within the healthcare system.
In a statement emailed to Healthnews, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) said the Obesity Bill of Rights, led by the NCL and the NCOA and supported by pharmaceutical companies and weight loss brands, advocates for legislation that would encourage more private and public healthcare spending on weight loss products.
"Fat people — like all people — deserve access to unbiased, respectful, comprehensive medical treatment," said NAAFA Executive Director Tigress Osborn. "Too often, medical professionals ignore the real symptoms of our actual conditions and see only the size of our bodies. We have heard countless stories of fat people misdiagnosed because of bias, and some have even died as a result."
Osborn says that anyone who claims to advocate for the health of people with obesity should be advocating for equitable healthcare all the time, for all medical needs, not just to create more access to weight loss options.
The NAAFA advocates for respectful treatment, equitable insurance coverage, accessible diagnostic equipment, and care that considers all the scientific evidence. The organization opposes using body mass index (BMI) as a diagnostic tool and advocates for legislation prohibiting discrimination against people for their height and weight.
Osborn said, "The overwhelming influence of commercial diet companies and the pharmaceutical industry on how we consider fat people's bodies has caused far more harm to higher-weight folks than fat has, and their backing of the Obesity Bill of Rights should concern anyone who genuinely cares about fat people's health and well-being."