Obesity stigma discussed in lecture series

Chloe Freed
Staff Writer

“Bridging the Gap Between Public Health and Obesity Care,” the second seminar of the four part series “Understanding Obesity: A Multidisciplinary Challenge,” featured Tracy Zvenyach, Novo Nordisk’s obesity public policy maker, and Susan Harris, the company’s obesity management specialist, in the Brower Student Center on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Established more than 90 years ago, Novo Nordisk focuses on curing and treating diabetes and ending the stigma surrounding obesity.

The company’s future goals are to have insurance companies and medical professionals extend their care and resources to combat obesity.

Zvenyach started the lecture by addressing the medical side of the issue.

“We need to change how the world sees and treats obesity,” Zvenyach said. “Obesity is characterized as a personal volition, like it’s a choice, but it’s actually a disease of physiology rather than psychology.”

Obesity has gradually impacted the lives of nearly 95 million adults in the U.S., according to Zvenyach and Harris.

Healthcare providers pay little attention to the severity of the issue, and continue to have a lack of knowledge about the disease, according to Zvenyach.

“There is very little training given to healthcare providers about that science of obesity,” Zvenyach said. “Not much is built into curricula.”

Minna Rizvi, a freshman biology major, gained insight on the nature of the disease.

“It is something you have to treat like an actual disease,” Rizvi said. “It’s not a choice, it’s a problem and we need a solution. … I am a victim of understanding obesity as health issue you can deal with yourself rather than something actually biological. Novo Nordisk is doing a good job bringing this issue to light.”

Novo Nordisks works to improve the healthcare system. (Meagan McDowell / Photo Assistant)

Zvenyach decided to become a nurse because she knew there were a lot of people that needed help, but that the system to help them is broken.

“We have to do something for people that are living with the disease,” Zvenyach said. “We need to help people with their disease.”

The American healthcare system has the money to pay for these advances, however, Zvenyach said that the money is not going where it should be.

“The direct medical costs of obesity is $5 million, but we’re not using this money very efficiently,” Zvenyach said. “We’re already paying for the treatment, we just need to redirect how we’re paying for it.”

The changes that need to be made to the system fall under the business side of Novo Nordisk.

Harris has an undergraduate degree in business and understands what needs to be changed and paid for to ensure that the money going toward obesity is used correctly.

“We have to change people’s mindset,” Harris said. “Telling physicians why they need to think about this differently. Telling insurance companies why they need to spend money in this area, why they need to cover these drugs for their patients.”

This change in mentality will open doors for companies like Novo Nordisk, who work hand-in-hand with creating drugs to battle diabetes and work to improve the healthcare system.

Harris explained the issues that come with treatment access for obesity.

“There’s issues with access to care,” Harris said. “Are the drugs covered? Is counseling covered? How many visits to a dietician are covered? Are all those things available to the patient at a reasonable cost?”

Many of the individuals who have insurance and wish to treat obesity have their fates in the hands of their employers.

‘‘Employers make the decision whether they want to cover their employees for obesity medication,” Harris said.

This poses an issue to employees who want treatment, but, due to the stigma of obesity, are afraid to broach the subject with their employers.

The mission of Novo Nordisk is simple — help those who need it.

“We have a mission to cure diabetes. If you don’t address obesity, that will never happen,” Harris said.

By raising awareness for obesity as a public health issue, Novo Nordisk hopes to see more positive outcomes in the future for obesity patients.

“There’s a long road ahead,” Zvenyach said. “Hopefully the day will come and you can walk into any healthcare provider in the United States and have them bring it up.”

Through the continuation of advocating for destigmatization and educating people on this issue, Novo Nordisk hopes to change the way the public views obesity.