Obese Canadians still being ignored by the system

by James Burton23 Apr 2019

Canadians living with obesity are still being ignored by healthcare systems, employers and health policy-makers compared to those requiring help for other chronic conditions.

Obesity Canada’s second report card assessing access to treatment said this disparity exposed the roughly six million Canadians who may be affected by this disease to negative health benefits such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension, sleep apnea, reflux, depression, anxiety and more.

It also puts them at risk of weight bias and discrimination at home, in the workplace, media and at school.

Dr Arya Sharma, scientific director for Obesity Canada, said: “In 2017, we conducted the first rigorous, data-driven appraisal of the degree to which adults with obesity have access to the treatments that research tells us can benefit them.

“Those results revealed treatment gaps more serious than we had anticipated – and the discouraging news is, after applying the same analysis two years later, very little has changed.”

The report also found that less than 20% of the Canadian population with private drug benefit plans have access to the three medications indicated and approved by Health Canada for obesity treatment and that every province and territory received a grade “F” for public coverage of obesity medications, while the Federal government received a “C”.

Worryingly, no province or territory officially recognizes obesity as a chronic disease despite such recognition from the Canadian and American Medical Associations, the World Health Organization and other healthcare facilities.

Lisa Schaffer, obesity advocate and chair of Obesity Canada’s Public Engagement Committee, said: ““The engendered bias and discrimination are rampant in healthcare, where obesity continues to be grossly misunderstood and is not treated with the same fundamental dignity and rigour as other diseases. We deserve and demand better.

“As one of millions of Canadian living with obesity, I find it reprehensible that our healthcare systems have not made any significant improvements in access to care.”

Obesity Canada made five key recommendations:

1, Governments, employers and the health insurance industry should officially adopt the position of the Canadian Medical Association that obesity is a chronic disease and orient their approach/resources accordingly;

2, Governments should recognize that weight bias and stigma are barriers to helping people with obesity and enshrine rights in provincial/territorial human rights codes, workplace regulations, healthcare systems and education.

3, Governments should include anti-obesity medications, weight-management programs with meal replacement and other evidence-based products and programs in their provincial drug benefit plans.

4, Employers should recognize and respond to obesity as a chronic disease and provide coverage for evidence-based obesity programs and Health Canada approved treatments for their employees through health benefit plans.

5, Governments and health authorities should increase the availability of interdisciplinary teams and increase their capacity to provide evidence-based obesity management.