Courtesy of Courtney Gilbert

For Courtney Gilbert, a dedicated member of the Obesity Action Coalition, obesity has been a significant part of her life for as long as she can remember. Throughout her life, she has navigated the physical, emotional and social impacts of her weight, witnessing the struggles of her family and friends as well.

Despite enduring relentless bullying, health issues and societal stigma, Courtney remains a passionate advocate for better obesity care and treatment. Her journey has led her to Capitol Hill, where she fights for policy changes and proper medical protocols to ensure individuals with obesity receive the care they deserve.

Through her advocacy, Courtney aims to dismantle weight-based stigma and promote a more compassionate and inclusive society.

The All-Encompassing Impact of Obesity

“I think the most obvious response that comes to mind is, how hasn’t obesity affected my life?” – Courtney.

Obesity affects every aspect of Courtney’s life, from her clothes to where she shops. Finding clothing that fit and feeling self-conscious about her appearance is a constant struggle. “I know I have treated myself poorly and struggle with self-loathing and extremely low self-esteem due to my weight and the negative way I have been treated by classmates, pediatricians, teachers, friends, aunts and uncles, and my mother, not to mention many other people along the way,” she reveals. How people fixate on her weight, whether to criticize or compliment her for losing weight, has shaped her experiences and interactions. “The way that weight becomes such a focal focus and directs whether I get negative or positive attention has had a major impact on my entire life,” Courtney notes.

The bullying Courtney endured during her elementary school years was relentless, eventually forcing her to switch schools in an attempt to escape the torment. “I was bullied so badly in my elementary school that I was homeschooled for 5th grade and then switched to a different school the next year,” Courtney recalls. She grew up believing that her worth and beauty were tied to her weight, fostering unrealistic expectations about what a healthy weight should be. These experiences left her feeling isolated, as her weight set her apart from her peers and subjected her to continuous judgment.

The Unkown Path to Treatment

Courtney’s weight affected not only her self-esteem but also her physical health. At 14, Courtney was diagnosed as prediabetic and warned that without weight loss, she was on a path to type 2 diabetes. She developed joint pain, back problems, high cholesterol, and major depression. Additionally, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and Sjögren’s syndrome, both of which are exacerbated by obesity.

Throughout her life, Courtney’s weight has fluctuated dramatically. At times, she has considered bariatric surgery, but the fear of unknown consequences has always held her back. Despite understanding that weight loss could alleviate her chronic illnesses, the idea of surgery remains daunting. Currently, she is exploring various options to find the best solution for her health and future.

Courtney’s three-year-old husky mix, Kisa, also helps keep her active, providing companionship and motivation.

“I don’t want to have to take such a drastic measure that I don’t know for sure how it will affect my body and my overall health,” she admits.

In the past, Courtney has been prescribed cholesterol and high blood pressure medications, but they often proved ineffective or came with intolerable side effects. However, working at her local library has introduced more physical activity into her life, leading to small yet positive changes in her health and energy levels.

“Since I started working at my local library, I have become more active, and while it is not a drastic change, it has improved my health and energy as well as my weight in small ways,” she shares. 

A Call for Change

The stigma surrounding obesity, combined with a lack of knowledge, often leads to inadequate medical care, as symptoms are dismissed as merely a consequence of weight. “The way that many health conditions or symptoms are disregarded just because of weight and obesity… As if one’s weight affects whether or not you deserve adequate medical attention and care,” she says.

Courtney’s advocacy for obesity care stems from a deep-seated passion for addressing this issue. Through Rare Patient Voice, she learned that many medications are not properly studied in individuals with obesity, leading to ineffective dosing. “I found out that a medication I had previously been on during a severe depressive episode was not properly studied in all weight populations,” she explains.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, highlights the importance of including individuals with obesity in therapies, particularly in clinical trials.

“For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccines were tested on large-scale communities to determine their efficacy. Testing vaccines in communities disproportionately affected by the disease, such as those with obesity, is crucial…. People with obesity represent a large percentage of the population. Representation matters, and we need to test therapies in individuals with obesity,” she states in an OAC Health Talk.

Advocacy Through Action

Courtney believes that obesity is not a choice, nor does it reflect a person’s worth or beauty. It is a complex disease influenced by genetics and other factors, making weight loss and management exceedingly difficult without proper care. “Obesity is not a choice. It is not something that is a reflection of a person’s worth or beauty. Obesity is a disease that needs to be treated like a disease,” she emphasizes. 

The world needs to shift its perspective, treating individuals with obesity with kindness and respect rather than judgment and prejudice. Medical professionals must provide adequate care for all patients, regardless of weight. Since connecting with the OAC, Courtney has visited Capitol Hill, advocating for the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act (TROA) and pushing for changes in drug trial protocols and medication labels. Her goal is to ensure that obesity is treated as the serious disease it is, requiring appropriate medical care and support.

Governments should prioritize access to obesity care to reduce the burden of comorbidities like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart conditions. Treating obesity at its core can alleviate the strain on healthcare systems and improve public health. Ending weight-based stigma benefits everyone, as obesity touches the lives of many, either directly or indirectly. “Because I guarantee that if it is not something that affects you personally, it affects someone you care about,” Courtney asserts. By promoting scientific data and fostering a more inclusive society, we can create a better world for people with obesity.


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