Two recent news articles – one from The New York Times and one from The Wall Street Journal – have generated quite a buzz lately about bariatric surgery.

On the one hand, NYT author Jane Brody makes a strong case about bariatric surgery as a valuable tool that has historically been underutilized. And it has been, for various reasons – mostly because of treatment stigma and not knowing how safe and effective bariatric surgery really is.

On the other hand, WSJ author Robbie Whelan says that in the age of COVID-19, more patients than ever before are seeking bariatric surgery as a way to lower their risk factors for severe illness and complications from the virus.

How do we make sense of all this information, and what’s the bigger picture here?

Thinking Differently about Obesity

LightbulbPerhaps thanks to COVID-19, we’re starting to look more closely at the broader topics of obesity and healthcare as a whole.

The data that has come out of this pandemic is clear: in any population, obesity makes the health risks of COVID-19 a lot greater. Another recent article from Science, which features a few key OAC voices, takes a deeper dive into the specifics of why this is. So, of course, the reality of COVID-19 severity and its link to obesity prompts us to consider new ways to help people manage their weight. More than 93 million Americans are affected by obesity, which means the same number of Americans are at risk for critical illness from COVID-19.

But before the pandemic, conversations about obesity weren’t as deep. They mostly focused on blaming people for their weight and telling them to “eat less and move more.” Now we’re seeing a shift in understanding as more people come to realize that the disease of obesity isn’t that simple – and the costs of thinking this narrowly can be deadly.

Thinking Differently about Healthcare

We’re also seeing a key shift in how we think about healthcare:

  • More people are realizing they can seek help with obesity care.
  • To Robbie Whelan’s point, more people are recognizing and considering obesity treatment options.
  • The use of telemedicine is rising across the globe.

This last point is a fascinating one because it’s bringing healthcare to people in new ways than ever before. Telemedicine is no longer reserved just for people in certain life circumstances. We’re being encouraged to use this emerging resource in a number of new and novel ways, including:

  • Mental health counseling
  • Nutrition counseling
  • Primary and specialty care appointments
  • Patient monitoring

And while the use of telemedicine is a good thing overall, it can be especially valuable to people seeking help with obesity. It’s less intimidating, more accessible, and in some cases, even more affordable.

Final Thoughts

So, maybe both articles have their own validity. But the bigger picture here is that COVID-19 is teaching us a lot about not just obesity, but also healthcare as a whole. We’re finding new ways to tackle ongoing concerns and perhaps even opening our eyes to how complex the disease of obesity really is.