Addressing the challenge and consequences of obesity
It’s all-too-rare in Washington, D.C., for healthcare issues to be discussed physician-to-physician.
That’s just what happened during a Congressional hearing on February 1, when I asked the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, about the FDA’s hesitancy to approve anti-obesity medications, in spite of the great and growing need for the full range of treatments for Americans suffering from severe weight problems.
I appreciate that Dr. Hamburg replied that I had raised “a number of important points.” But the rest of her answer – and, more importantly, the FDA’s record of reluctance on anti-obesity drugs – leave me concerned that the agency may continue to drag its feet while the obesity crisis—and its human and fiscal costs—becomes ever-more serious.
As a physician by profession, I’m well aware that Americans’ waistlines are rapidly expanding, with disastrous consequences. More than half of adult Americans are overweight and one-third are obese. Obese people run the risk of health problems, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, liver and gallbladder disease, and cancers of all kinds. As a fiscally conservative Congressman, I’m concerned that, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported, obesity-related medical costs add up to about $150 billion a year.
As a former chairman of the Marietta School Board, I support efforts to encourage young people to eat smarter and exercise more. Kids need to spend more time in the gym and less time watching TV. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that obesity is most serious among Americans from 45 to 64.
For middle-aged Americans, healthy diets and frequent exercise are essential for good health – and for many Americans these are enough. Sometimes, however, exercise and diet are not enough to head-off obesity and its complications. As several articles in medical journals have reported, many middle-aged Americans do succeed in losing weight when they diet, -only to add the weight back on again. Oftentimes, the reason is nothing more complicated than the decreased mobility and increased health problems that result from aging.
In situations like these, drug therapies can be an important complement to healthy eating and exercise. Physicians also understand that drug therapies – when deemed safe and effective - can provide a catalyst to weight reduction by allowing targeted treatment options that take into specific abilities and needs of their patients.
In the coming weeks, the FDA will be addressing the issues surrounding new drugs designed to help patients treat obesity and avert serious complications such as high blood pressure and cardiac arrest. It is my hope that we come to a point in the not-so-distant future where the safety and efficacy of these new drugs can be properly ascertained.
Obesity among adults as well as children – and its terrible consequences for our physical and fiscal wellbeing – are among America’s leading challenges.
By continuing to address the myriad of reasons for and consequences of obesity, it is my hope that we can help pave the way toward a healthy future for us and our nation.
Rep. Gingrey (R-GA) represents Georgia’s 11th District. A graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, he completed his internship at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, and his residency at the Medical College of Georgia and built an OB-GYN practice in Marietta, delivering more than 5,200 babies.