An Interview with Chris Gallagher, OAC’s Policy Consultant
For Chris Gallagher, advocating for people affected by obesity is a full-time job. He spends his workdays meeting with government officials in Washington, DC., educating policymakers, and advocating to improve the way society understands and treats obesity.
As a policy consultant for the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), Chris is an essential part of our daily advocacy work. We couldn’t do what we do without him! You might have seen him at previous OAC Conventions, read articles he’s authored, or even attended one of his advocacy trainings.
But who really IS the OAC powerhouse behind so many of our campaigns and activities on Capitol Hill? Read on to learn more about Chris and how we’ve partnered to change the future of obesity care.
What do you do behind-the-scenes as OAC’s Policy Consultant? What are some of your responsibilities?
For the last 15 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the OAC’s ambassador to Capitol Hill, numerous federal agencies, and several state legislators — working to connect and foster relationships between patient advocates and federal and state policymakers. I also serve as a liaison between the OAC and several other obesity groups and coalitions focused on improving access to obesity care, such as The Obesity Society (TOS), the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS), the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA), the Obesity Care Advocacy Network (OCAN) and the STOP (Strategies to Overcome and Prevent) Obesity Alliance.
How does this work ultimately aim to help people living with obesity?
I’ve always said the key to successful advocacy efforts is building strong relationships between the advocates and policymakers – allowing for patients to share their personal stories and put a human face on this complex, and often misunderstood, chronic disease. In addition, building strong and diverse coalitions is critical to demonstrating broad support for your issue.
From your experience in policy work, what obstacles do we need to overcome to better support people with obesity? What measures are working or have worked?
I’ve been working on obesity issues for the last 25 years. During the mid-90s, I was taking around leaders from the bariatric surgery community around Capitol Hill – often facing very skeptical faces as we talked about obesity being a chronic disease as opposed to a personal failing. Thankfully, much has changed in the last two and a half decades. Today, mostly everyone we speak with on Capitol Hill accepts that obesity is a complex and chronic disease. However, many still don’t view the need for comprehensive coverage of obesity care as a top-ten priority issue.
Sadly, bias, stigma and misinformation continue to poison the debate as to whether or not those affected by obesity are worthy of treatment. The best medicine to address this poison are patient stories and patient-driven advocacy, which OAC continues to do so very well! Moving forward, though, we need to triple these efforts so that every legislator is hearing monthly from a local OAC advocate!
What are your takeaways on the OAC Advocacy Town Halls?
The Town Halls have been fabulous and a great way to connect with OAC members and share some of our favorite tools for helping advocates help themselves. I know these events are inspiring more and more patients to come forward and share their personal journeys about how they are fighting for access to care for both themselves and others.
You’re not the only one in your family who works in the obesity advocacy space. Tell us about who else shares your goal of supporting people with obesity. How do you work together as a team?
That’s right! My wife, Cristy Gallagher, is also an advocate for obesity care – both professionally and personally. 10 years ago, she began working with the STOP Obesity Alliance, which conducts research, makes policy recommendations, and develops hands-on tools for providers, advocacy groups, policymakers and consumers. Cristy is also someone who has struggled with obesity throughout the last two decades after starting a family and being married to a very, very challenging partner. In 2019, Cristy added an anti-obesity medication to her daily regimen of exercise and healthy eating, which is helping her to better manage her obesity. We are a great team as Cristy and STOP have been critical in developing a great deal of the research that I use when speaking with policymakers, both at the federal and state levels.
What inspires you to do this work?
It’s really the passion of both the patients and the healthcare providers that drive my work. I’ve been a healthcare lobbyist for more than 30 years in several different areas, and the obesity community is one where everyone is so truly dedicated to the mission – working together to have obesity universally recognized as a complex and chronic disease that must be treated just like every other chronic disease state.
Obesity Care Week 2023 is taking place from February 27 – March 3rd. What is your hope for this year’s campaign? What can OAC supporters do to help make it a success?
I’m hopeful that we can continue to educate policymakers across the spectrum about the need for universal access to obesity care. Advocates need to use the week as an opportunity for starting that relationship with key policymakers – letting them know that you can be a local and trusted resource on obesity care issues. And they can do that — on several different issues — through the OAC’s Action Center, which allows members to easily reach out to their legislators both on Capitol Hill and in their State House.
About Obesity Care Week
Obesity Action Coalition is a proud Founding Champions of Obesity Care Week. Obesity Care Week is an annual public awareness event supported by over 100 health organizations and leaders in 70 countries around the world. OCW2023 Champions and Partners stand together to acknowledge obesity as a complex, chronic, recurring disease. Despite extensive research and studies, stigma and misperceptions continue to negatively shape the way people with obesity are treated medically and generally within society. OCW2023 aims to strengthen the relationship between a patient and their healthcare provider by encouraging open, empathetic and evidence-based conversations about weight and health. To learn more about Obesity Care Week and sign up for alerts, visit ObesityCareWeek.org.