Advocacy: The Voice on Behalf of Those Affected by Obesity

It was just a little over eight years ago when a legislator stood up at a meeting on obesity and asked the question, “Who represents those who are affected by obesity? I hear every day from public health officials, healthcare providers and others about obesity but I’ve never heard from someone who is personally affected asking me for their help.”  It was this statement that inspired the creation of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) and our commitment to advocacy on behalf of those affected by obesity.  2012 was a banner year for OAC advocacy efforts, despite political gridlock and the elections, as we saw OAC not only assure the voices of those affected by obesity are heard but also expanded our capabilities to do so in the future.

As anyone who follows politics likely knows, 2012 was an “interesting” year to say the least with political gridlock in Washington, the election and the Supreme Court decision around healthcare reform. This, however, did not stop the OAC from actively advocating to multiple agencies and on several different obesity issues.  Personally, I visited Washington DC more than 30 times meeting with a wide variety of elected officials, government agencies, key opinion leaders, lobbyists and more.  In doing so, OAC brought the patient voice to the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS), Food and Drug Administration, numerous State Governors and members of both Federal and State Legislatures.  Issues tackled were wide-ranging including bias, access to treatment, the need for new treatments to be developed, the importance of updating policies to allow new treatments to be accessed, the importance of prevention, awareness and research, among many others. Much of this work was done behind the scenes, interacting with key policymakers in preparing for healthcare reform, which will definitely have an impact on those affected by obesity. We as an organization are committed to minimizing as many of the negative impacts as possible and maximizing the positive ones.  Look for much more to come on reform in 2013.

One of the most important milestones for an advocacy organization is when the organization has the ability to not only represent the views of its members, but has the ability to call upon its members to take action themselves. With this understanding, in 2012, at the Your Weight Matters Inaugural Convention, OAC offered its first ever National Advocacy Training session.  Attended by more than 60 Convention attendees, the session taught the basics of advocacy and then provided “live practice” of legislative meetings with attendees participating in a series of mock legislative visits.  The power of individuals sharing their stories with policymakers was evident at this meeting.  Personalizing one’s struggles with obesity and their journey towards improved health really brings home the importance of more action on obesity. Expanding the voices of those willing to share those stories will grow ever more important moving forward.

Looking for ways to get involved in the OAC’s advocacy efforts, but not sure how you can help? There are many ways that your voice can make a difference, even if you haven’t had the chance to attend one of our advocacy training sessions or other advocacy events. As an organization that relies on the support of its membership, our voice gets stronger with every member – the more our membership grows, the louder our voice. Become a member today! If you’re already a member, I ask you to remember the OAC in your end-of-year giving. Every financial contribution, no matter how great or small, goes a long way in the fight. To make a donation now, please click here.

From large national issues like healthcare reform down all the way to local and community issues around obesity, it is important to recognize advocacy can and will play an important role. It is important that we not neglect advocacy or forget its importance because if we do, who will speak on behalf of those affected by obesity? As pointed out by that astute legislator 8 years ago, it’s important that the OAC takes on this responsibility so that Every Voice can be Heard.

Making a Difference Together,

Joe

To view the final blog post in this series, click here.



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