The OAC — the Spark for Change

It’s remarkable to think about everything that has changed in the first decade since the Obesity Action Coalition was founded in President and CEO Joe Nadglowski’s spare bedroom.

In 2005, there was no organized voice for people affected by obesity. People were so stigmatized by this chronic disease that most didn’t even want to talk about it. In legislative hearings on the subject, the only people who showed up were self-righteous skinny folks who pontificated about eating less, moving more and beating the disease through sheer force of will.

It’s a nice, poetic concept, and certainly strength is necessary, but it’s not sufficient enough to beat a chronic disease without support and help from healthcare professionals who genuinely understand the condition. Back then, even the treatment of obesity was highly stigmatized, even more than it is today.

OAC Board Member and advocate Michelle “Shelly” Vicari puts it into perspective, saying:

“One of the biggest changes I personally have witnessed — and I do credit the OAC with it — is a person being more vocal about the medical care they are seeking. Perhaps having a group open up dialog has allowed people to feel comfortable to do the same. I think it’s helping with the stigma of treatment.

“Personally, access was a huge reason I got involved. I was that girl sitting in my parked car in tears after being denied (despite 54.5 BMI, comorbidities deemed severe) feeling very alone and desperate (enough to take money I was saving for a new car and head to Mexico by myself.) Now seeing that access map slowly improving and knowing someone is fighting for that is huge.”

Ted listens to a question from the audience during the OAC’s National Advocacy Training Session at the OAC Annual Convention.

The OAC has grown from just one member to more than 50,000 in just 10-years. I can remember thinking that a vibrant membership organization for people affected by obesity might be a fantasy.

Now, we not only have a vibrant and growing organization, we are on the way to setting attendance records for our fourth national convention. We have a community of people who support each other to defeat this relentless, chronic disease, and we have hundreds of trained and highly effective advocates whose voices are helping to shape health policy that relates to obesity.

OAC members are being heard in Congress, the Institute of Medicine, the Food and Drug Administration, state legislatures and health plans all over the country. Obesity will become a manageable and ultimately curable disease, and when it does, it will be in part because of the OAC and our members, who make the difference.

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