Published On: May 21st, 2024


Published On: May 21st, 2024


Ann Arbor, MI  — The American Heart Association has released a new scientific statement titled “Implementation of Obesity Science Into Clinical Practice: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association,” in its flagship scientific journal Circulation. This statement underscores the pressing need to bridge the gap between obesity research and real-world application in clinical settings.

The statement highlights significant disparities in the application of the latest scientific advances in obesity treatment and management. Despite ongoing research revealing the underlying causes of obesity and optimal treatment strategies, the consistency of care and expertise in obesity care varies widely among healthcare professionals and institutions.

Dr. Deepika Laddu, Ph.D., FAHA, chair of the statement writing committee and senior research scientist at Arbor Research Collaborative for Health, emphasized the critical public health concern posed by obesity, which affects nearly all populations and strains healthcare systems globally. “As a major risk factor for heart disease, obesity significantly hinders progress in reducing heart disease rates. Despite advancements in understanding the complexities of obesity and newer treatment options, major gaps remain between obesity research and its implementation in clinical practice,” Dr. Laddu noted.

Studies indicate that intensive lifestyle therapy is significantly more effective for weight loss than brief advice from healthcare professionals. Many health professionals often provide general educational information rather than making referrals to comprehensive programs or tangible resources for lifestyle changes. A recent study revealed only 16% of healthcare professionals reportedly have working knowledge of evidence-based lifestyle treatments for obesity, which includes diet, nutrition, physical activity, and intensive behavioral therapy.

Socioeconomic and racial or ethnic inequities further exacerbate barriers to effective weight loss management. People from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and those covered by Medicare or Medicaid, are less likely to be referred to weight management programs or have these programs covered by insurance.

“Despite significant progress in understanding obesity, there is still a notable disparity between our knowledge and its application in clinical settings,” said Dr. Laddu. “Health care professionals and health care systems need to find better ways to put what we know about obesity into action so more people can get the right support and treatment. Embracing new technologies and telemedicine, referring patients to community-based weight management programs to foster behavioral change, offering social support, and expanding access to treatments are some of the promising strategies we could use to achieve effective, evidence-based obesity care.”

The prevalence of obesity has been escalating for the past 30 years, with recent estimates indicating that over 40% of U.S. adults aged 20 and older are living with obesity, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Research has identified multifactorial causes of obesity, including sociological and physiological determinants of health, and treatments have evolved to include lifestyle modifications, medication therapy, and bariatric surgery.

Dr. Laddu stressed the importance of translating scientific knowledge into actionable healthcare practices. “Healthcare professionals and systems need to implement what we know about obesity to ensure more people receive the right support and treatment. Embracing new technologies,  community-based weight management programs, and increasing access to education and treatments are promising methods for delivering evidence-based obesity care.”

Recent advancements include FDA-approved medications like GLP-1 agonists, which have shown significant effectiveness in weight management. Despite eligibility, a small proportion of the population currently uses these medications due to insurance coverage issues and high out-of-pocket costs. Recent changes in Medicare and Medicaid coverage policies could improve access to these treatments.

Bariatric surgery has also seen improvements in safety and effectiveness, with studies showing lower risks of cardiovascular disease and other obesity-related conditions post-surgery. Ensuring access to bariatric surgery for those most in need remains a challenge, highlighting the necessity for cost, resource, and social support considerations.

The statement outlines strategies for integrating obesity research into clinical practice, including:

  • Considering social determinants of health in treatment approaches.
  • Enhancing education for healthcare professionals on the complexities of obesity.
  • Evaluating health policy changes to make obesity treatment affordable.
  • Developing frameworks for delivering obesity care in clinical settings.

Future research and policy changes are required to optimize obesity-related care and ensure equitable access, particularly for underrepresented groups.


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