Washington, DC – For a long time now, Canadians have taken pride in their system of universal healthcare. In the U.S., more people than ever before now have health insurance, but a new study presented today at ObesityWeek 2017 shows that one thing hasn’t improved in either country. Access to medical care that will actually help a person living with obesity remains poor in both countries.

The study surveyed 9,517 adults in both the U.S. and Canada about their health plan coverage for medical services. In both countries, most people said they have coverage for doctor visits, hospitalizations, and blood pressure medications. However, for obesity care, the results in both were exactly the opposite. Most people said their health plan would not cover medical weight management, a registered dietitian, obesity medications, or bariatric surgery.

“These results are deeply disturbing. The first line of defense for many chronic diseases is weight management. Science-based obesity care can prevent diabetes, and help control blood pressure. It can even reduce the risk of obesity-related cancers. For health plans to exclude obesity care, while paying dearly to manage chronic diseases, is utterly foolish,” said lead author Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, OAC National Board Member.

Obesity Action Coalition CEO Joe Nadglowski said this study underscores the need for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA). “Right now, the only widely available option for people in Medicare is bariatric surgery. TROA would open up other effective options for people who might not yet need or want surgery to get their obesity under control. FDA-approved medicines can make a big difference for the health of a person living with obesity. Likewise, expert help from a registered dietitian can be critical for overcoming obesity. When a health plan like Medicare excludes these science-based options, it puts them out of reach for many people.”

“Unfortunately,” said Ximena Ramos Salas of the Canadian Obesity Network, “these data confirm a problem that we identified in our 2017 Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment in Canada. Public and private payers simply are not providing enough support for obesity treatments, and access to them is uneven across the country.”

“This problem frustrates me every day as I try to care for people with obesity,” said Fatima Cody Stanford, MD, MPH, MBA. She is an obesity medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School. “Many people who need care simply give up because their health plans don’t cover it, so they wait and I see them only after conditions like diabetes and heart disease worsen.”

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC), a more than 58,000 member-strong National nonprofit organization, is dedicated to improving the lives of individuals affected by the disease of obesity through education, advocacy and support.