96% of Adults with Obesity in the US are Not Getting Enough Help

Posted: May 9, 2019 in Opinion, Research by

People struggling with weight need intensive multicomponent behavioral and medical intervention. Not enough people are getting the help they need. It’s not even close.

Stokes et al 1 outlined a cascade of engagement from perceiving oneself as overweight, desiring to lose weight, attempting to lose weight, seeking care from a healthcare professional for obesity, and seeking care from a physician specifically. They studied data from the 2005-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to identify engagement with obesity care among adults with BMI ≥ 30. Ultimately they found that only 3.6% of people with a BMI ≥30 sought help from a physician. This data implies that 96.4% of the population with obesity does not get adequate obesity care.

Here’s a nice way to look at their data by ConscienHealth:

There are 93,279,458 adults struggling with obesity in the United States 2 and 440,407 adults here in Phoenix 3. If we focus on Phoenix alone and extrapolate this data then 220,203 people in Phoenix are trying to lose weight on their own, 26,424 are seeking help from non-physician healthcare providers, and only 17,616 are seeking help from physicians. 422,791 people with obesity in Phoenix have inadequate care. If we zoom back out to all of the US, then 89,548,280 people with obesity have an unmet need for medical care. These numbers by Stokes et al don’t even include people with a BMI in an overweight range (BMI 25-30 kg/m2). The number of people needing help would be much bigger (about 173 million based on census data). The numbers also don’t identify what percentage of physicians are actually obesity medicine specialists or who are at least part of an effective intensive multidisciplinary clinic. So, the number of people struggling with overweight and obesity getting effective help would be much much smaller.

  1. Stokes et al. Obesity 2018;26: 814-818. doi:10.1002/oby.22173
  2. Stokes et al.  Am J Prev Med 2017;53(5):567–575.
  3. US Census Bureau accessed 11/14/2018.