Healthcare and The Obesity Crisis – A Symptom of Something More?

360 magazine healthcare and the obesity crisis a symptom of something more

I was recently put on a food cleanse by my doctor to rule out any food allergies as a culprit of the chronic pain I’ve lived with for years. The plan is for 6 weeks — I’m on day 33.  Essentially I’m eating any fruits or veggies that I want, along with chicken and quinoa. No wheat, flour, soy, corn, dairy, fish, red meat or seasonings except salt, pepper, garlic, and olive. As a result, I’ve lost some weight; not an intended outcome, but not unwelcome.  My pain, sadly has not significantly reduced. The cravings for chocolate and cheese have intensified, and I dream of cupcakes with icing regularly. I am grateful that it is the season of all things fresh. And, I have a renewed respect for those around me who have food allergies and sensitivities.

As I listened to the TEDMED 2013 presentation by Peter Attia, The Obesity Crisis — Is it just a disguise for a deeper problem?, I was intrigued by Attia’s  underlying message: “What if obesity is the coping mechanism for a far more sinister problem underneath a cell?” Food may be the culprit to many of the issues surrounding our culture’s most significant health crises: obesity and type II diabetes. It’s definitely worth a listen.

More alarming from the presentation were the statistics that were shared. The prevalence of obesity has more than doubled since the 1970’s; over a third of Americans are now obese. The prevalence of diabetes has quadrupled over the same time span. This is mind-boggling data when you stop and really think about it. The fact is, these conditions can create other conditions, and a perpetual cycle of pain and chronic illness. Last week, I blogged about how Oklahoma City’s Mayor, Mick Cornett, had taken the leap to transform his obese city and the positive outcomes that came of that commitment. Change is happening to help fight these conditions, but there’s so much more that can be done.

How Healthcare is Engaging

It’s also important to recognize the way in which our healthcare system is transforming to address chronic conditions versus just caring for patient’s immediate health concerns. Both, of course, need to be addressed, but with the prevalence of ongoing chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes increasing at such alarming rates, the system is looking for ways to better care for patients and for ways in which patients can better care for themselves.

Some of the care methods come from helping patients engage in their own health in more substantial ways. Providing easier methods of tracking food intake, exercise levels, sleep patterns as well as metabolic rates and insulin levels on a regular basis is vital, so caregivers have a full spectrum picture of a patient’s daily life versus just a snapshot of what they recall in a brief office visit. Patients can utilize many different types of technologies to help track these types of diagnostics.

Another option is to provide different methods for patient engagement, helping the patient to see their disease or condition in a different way. A great example: the recent smartphone physicals that we’ve sponsored and blogged about. According to Shiv Gaglani, a medical student and editor at MedgadgetThe Smartphone Physical is meant to show that not only can we make the physical more accurate through technology, but we can also engage the patient so he or she is able to see and understand what the clinician is seeing. For the first time the patient can see his own ear drum or retina, and thus is more likely to understand what the clinician means when she says, ‘you need to control your diabetes because it’s damaging the vessels in your eye.’ In summary, I think the physical exam is here to stay…it’s just undergoing a 21st century makeover with the aid of technology and education.”

Beyond helping patients engage in their care more fully, it’s critical to create healthcare environments that best support people with chronic conditions. While obesity is a sensitive topic, it is indeed kind to think of providing environments which not only support the weight of individuals with obesity, but also provide dignity and respect. Considerations must also be given to convenience and privacy needs. There are also opportunities to utilize the healthcare environments as teaching environments — providing educational tools to help patients actually learn while in the healthcare environments.

As part of the TEDMED Great Challenges, Steelcase Health participated in a discussion surrounding the obesity crisis and business. It lends great insight into the challenges businesses are also facing when it comes to health and well-being of the individual, and caring for those with chronic conditions such as obesity.

It Matters

While Attia provided important and thought-provoking insight into what could be the underlying culprit of the diseases that are spiraling out of control in our society, he also opened the door for the discussion on how we can better care for the people battling with these diseases. Because the fact remains, while cures are on the way, they don’t often come fast enough. This requires the healthcare system  to address the concerns of today, while continuing to work toward finding a cure tomorrow. The system also remains responsible  to continue providing patient-centered care in environments that can support and enrich the patient experience, ultimately helping the patient as well as the caregiver have positive outcomes and journeys along the path to finding methods to control or conquer their disease.

What changes have you seen in healthcare environments to better engage those with chronic conditions? Have you seen a shift in the way patients encounter healthcare environments due to chronic conditions? Are patient needs changing in this area and is the healthcare system moving fast enough, given the statistics?

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