Marco Cerino TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans took part in a roundtable discussion Monday with healthcare experts and community leaders focused on solutions to lower obesity rates in the city.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported over two-thirds of Philadelphia adults are obese, with higher rates among Black and Hispanic adults. 41% of the city’s youth are obese, double the national average.
The American College of Physicians hosted the event at their Center City headquarters. Dr. Darilyn V. Moyer, CEO and Executive Vice President for the ACP, emphasized the need for a collaborative approach in her opening remarks.
“It’s really crucial that we have this conversation because it’s going to take all of us to get to the other side,” she said. “We know that, sadly, obesity is the underpinning for over 50 diseases in our patients.”
Practicing physicians, educators, researchers and other engaged stakeholders discussed best practices and ideas for over an hour. Many applauded the new approaches to obesity, moving away from bariatric surgery and seeing medications helping people lose weight and manage diabetes. While prescription drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy are becoming more popular, and are available to patients in Pennsylvania, they are still not covered by federal Medicare plans. Members of Congress have re-introduced the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act into both chambers to cover these medications on Medicare plans.
Medications have helped but the gathered experts acknowledged that care has to be better offered to patients, especially those in lower income areas. Providers need to bring physicians into neighborhoods, or train residents to work with their neighbors, provide better access to resources like healthy foods or programming at the local YMCA with transportation solutions. Situations such as utility shutoffs can prevent patients from taking the best care of themselves if they can’t drink clean water or use a refrigerator for storing produce.
During the conversation, those assembled also referenced stigmas and other barriers preventing residents from receiving care for obesity. One doctor referenced a patient with end-stage cancer who couldn’t get early treatment because her physician insisted she lose 40 pounds first. Clinical trials struggle to recruit patients in low-income areas because they think the testing won’t benefit them or expect it to be like the Tuskegee experiments. Mistrust still exists against primary care and other physicians, many of whom don’t look like their patients or share similar life experiences.
Rev. Leroy Miles from the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church provided some insight from his work in the community. His church has spent over a decade working on community health initiatives, like screenings and testing events, to help attendees be more informed and improve health results. He encouraged more partnerships with faith-based organizations.
“When you talk about influence, you talk about moving the needle, we have kind of have figured some things out,” Miles said in regards to ways to overcome apathy and lack of engagement for health initiatives. “If folks hear it on a Sunday morning or hear it as part of their faith, it does modify behavior in a significant way.”
Concluding the event, Rep. Evans shared his perspective from working on healthy food initiatives while in the General Assembly in Harrisburg, referring to food as medicine. He also recalled seeing then-First Lady Michelle Obama leading anti-obesity efforts and encouraging more physical activity, and how that leadership can change hearts and minds.
“If average people think you are equally as much in this issue as they are, and this is not the kind of thing where you’re doing it but they’re not doing it, they have to be involved.”Congressman Dwight Evans