Hello Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) Community! My name is Bharti Shetye, but you can call me Dr. Abby. I am an American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) certified bariatrician and an American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) internist. I am also the Medical Director for Sun Coast Bariatrics in St. Petersburg, FL.
My Personal Story with Obesity:
Obesity is accompanied by many physical, mental, psychological, social and metabolic effects. I myself was affected by obesity several years back. I have a very strong family history of diabetes and I wanted to try to avoid it.
Being 50 lbs heavier than what was healthy for my body, I had low energy, felt physically and mentally lethargic, and would avoid social interactions. So, I decided to start walking a new journey toward improved health. I began eating better, exercising, and moderating as well as attending support groups. As the weight came off, I started to get more energy, more physical and mental confidence, more productive days at work and even a larger social circle.
All of this experience has taught me that it’s true: the struggle is REAL and lifelong! There are resources for obesity treatment which are being under-utilized and must be used. Some options out there include medical weight-loss, surgical weight-loss and access to health professionals for intensive behavior modification therapy. Unfortunately, not all therapeutic options are covered by insurance companies, which is a significant barrier to treating and decreasing the prevalence of obesity.
My Personal Story Working as a Health Professional
Working as an internist (2001-2006), I realized I was managing the common 3 chronic diseases — hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia — but not really treating them effectively.
As a bariatrician (2006 to date), as I help my patients lose weight, stop medications and prevent many of these chronic diseases, I am now treating them more effectively. I’ve been practicing bariatric medicine since then and I’ve never looked back!
Obesity management is my passion. I pioneered a weight management clinic for the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas County from 2010-2015, the results of which gained recognition at the local, state & national levels. The clinic was recognized by the National Association of County & City Health Officials in Washington, DC, as a national model clinic. I was also blessed to be awarded the Prudential Davis Award by FL Governor Rick Scott!
I also own my own medical weight-loss clinic in Tampa FL. Summing it up, my experience crosses multiple sectors of obesity management–- on the personal front and in the medical field, in both private and public sectors, and in medical and surgical bariatrics.
What My Personal Story has Taught Me:
Thereafter, I took over as Medical Director for Sun Coast Bariatrics, a bariatric surgical center of excellence. Patients are referred to our clinic or are self-referred. Even today, after the American Medical Association’s (AMA) recognition of “obesity is a disease with treatment options,” a significant number of patients state that their PCP does not agree with their decision to have bariatric surgery. They are told, “eat better, exercise more, and don’t take the easy road of surgery which might be a failure anyways.” How untrue this is! Health providers should be educated and trained to recognize obesity as a disease and offer appropriate treatment options. Awareness is crucial in obesity treatment and prevention.
Challenges in Bariatric Medicine
My personal story has taught me that multiple challenges in bariatric medicine need to be addressed:
- Lack of adequate insurance coverage toward medical weight-loss, intensive behavioral therapy and revision surgery if required. This leads to…
- Increased out-of-pocket costs for patients. This leads to…
- Many patients choose not to seek treatment, which in turn leads to…
- Rise in medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and osteoarthritis, leading to…
- Increased healthcare costs. This leads to…
- Patients’ preconceived ideas of weight-loss from few commercial weight-loss clinics, and frustrations they have with yo-yo weight patterns.
How I Advocate for Patients
The OAC, in addition to other leading industry organizations, plays a pivotal role in patient advocacy and raising awareness in an effort to treat and prevent obesity. Advocacy at the local level (educating patients AND health professionals), state level and national levels (such as visits to Capitol Hill visits to encourage passing the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act) are efforts in the right direction. That’s one of the reasons I continue to share my personal story and insight.
For a physician, no joy can compare to these comments I hear from successful patients:
- “I can run with my grand kids now.”
- “I can get off my insulin?” (Happy tears)
- “I don’t need a seat belt extender on a plane.”
- “I walked a theme park all day long, fit into a roller coaster and enjoyed the day with family.”
- “I don’t need oxygen or inhalers all day long.”
- “I cancelled my knee replacement surgery.”
- “I can walk now, so I sold my scooter!”
My Message to Patients:
The journey you’re on is one to better health. You don’t need to struggle in silence. When seeking obesity treatment, be mindful of what’s out there and search for ABOM-certified bariatricians who are medical experts in obesity management (visit ObesityCareProviders.com to start your search). Reach out to your primary care physicians, bariatricians/weight-loss specialists and the OAC. These connections will give you the treatment & support you need on this life-long journey to better health!