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May 9, 2023

Insights from the Obesity Medicine 2023 Conference

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Experts share their perspectives on obesity care, stigma, coaching skills, protein synthesis, and BMI limitations at the Obesity Medicine 2023 Conference in Manhattan.

The bustling streets of Manhattan played host to the highly anticipated Obesity Medicine Conference 2023 (OMA2023) this spring. The city is a hub of activity, with its world-famous landmarks, thriving financial district, and rich cultural institutions. The conference started with an opening address from Angela Fitch MD, FACP, FOMA, Dipl. ABOM, President of the Obesity in Medicine Association and the Founder of Knownwell, reminded attendees that the field of obesity medicine is rapidly evolving and gaining more recognition. She urged everyone to rally behind the cause and advocate for increased support and coverage.

Dr. Fitch highlighted the importance of educating clinicians on evidence-based research, pushing for reimbursement through the American Medical Association (AMA), and recognizing obesity as a chronic disease that affects multiple systems in the body. She also noted that relying solely on Body Mass Index (BMI) is insufficient, and clinical judgment is key to providing evidence-based treatment for individuals with obesity. Finally, she addressed the damaging effects of bias and stigma that individuals with obesity face and the critical need to advocate against such bias.

One of the many highlights of Dr. Fitch’s address was her announcement of the new Obesity Pillars Journal, an official OMA Publication, designed to guide clinicians in providing evidence-based care for patients with obesity. She encouraged contributions from experts in the field. She also revealed plans for a new model for the conference starting in 2024, featuring a more focused Fall meeting with a key topic in obesity medicine, e.g., obesity and cardiac disease. This approach promises to be an engaging and informative experience for attendees, and I, for one, am eagerly anticipating its debut.

Attendees were then treated to an inspiring testimony by Elizabeth Paul, MA, who sits on the board of the Obesity Action Coalition. She spoke about her journey with obesity and the effects of internalized weight bias on patient care. Elizabeth discussed how weight stigma could create obstacles for individuals seeking treatment and receiving effective care. She explained the harmful effects of internalized weight bias on mental and physical health and highlighted the importance of comprehensive, compassionate obesity care in assisting patients to overcome these biases.

Elizabeth’s talk shed light on the many negative attitudes and discriminatory acts aimed at individuals solely because of their weight and how these biases can come from family, friends, doctors, nurses, employers, coworkers, and strangers. She opened up about how her internal biases led to negative self-talk and contributed to her experiences with anxiety, depression, and stress.

Valarie M. O’Hara, DO, FAAP, DABOM, and Allen Brown, MD, FAAP, FACS, DABOM, discussed a family-oriented method for treating obesity. They covered the various types of bias and stigma that overweight children and their families face and explored different treatment options. Additionally, Nina Crowley, PhD., RDN, LD, shared her insights on the most recent findings and top practices for integrating healthcare professionals into interdisciplinary care teams to support the fundamental aspects of clinical obesity treatment.

Michelle Alencer, PhD, NBC-HWC, CCN, CSCS, ACSM-EP, CPT, an esteemed obesity expert and patient advocate, led a panel session on coaching skills for obesity medicine. During the session, Dr. Alencer highlighted the importance of creating a safe and non-judgmental space for patients, using the patient’s preferred language during the initial visit and follow-up. She emphasized the significance of understanding the patient’s struggles, experiences, and challenges to provide optimal care.

The first few moments of a clinical visit are crucial, and non-verbal communication can be telling. Dr. Alencer recommended pausing briefly, asking empathetic questions, and carefully listening to the patient’s needs. This approach fosters patient-centered care, where medical practitioners work closely with patients to achieve their goals. Her take on this issue was spot on, and I was encouraged to incorporate these insights into our practice for improved patient outcomes.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending Dr. Gabrielle Lyon’s session entitled “Protein Perspectives” session, which explored the muscle changes in aging populations. She discussed how to optimize skeletal muscle, particularly the regulation of muscle protein synthesis and the importance of the amino acid leucine in this process. Her energetic and insightful discussion highlighted the significance of incorporating a balanced approach to protein synthesis to prevent aging-related conditions, including muscle loss of function and mass.

Dr. Lyon also emphasized optimizing dietary protein and energy, as aging reduces energy efficiency and protein distribution. One key takeaway from her talk was the importance of scrutinizing protein labels and being aware that the types of essential amino acids that make up proteins may not be indicated on food labels. This missing detail on protein labels makes it difficult to determine the quantity of leucine in our food, which is crucial for stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

On the conference’s final day, Dr. Sylvia Gonsahn-Bollie, M.D., sparked a thought-provoking conversation with her presentation titled “How do you individualize obesity treatment goals in clinical practice?” Dr. Sylvia discussed that Body Mass Index (BMI) has limitations and only considers total body weight without taking body composition into account. She suggested that the medical community consider BMI’s limitations since it’s a population-based tool with constraints when applied to individuals.

Body Mass Index can be misleading for specific groups due to age, sex, race/ethnicity, and metabolic medical issues. She recommended using a tailored BMI chart that factors in age, biological sex, race/ethnicity, and obesity-related diseases as a threshold for further health evaluation if the BMI is used to assess health.

Attending the OMA conference was a valuable experience for me, as it allowed me to connect with medical professionals and obesity experts from around the country. This collaborative event allowed us to share knowledge and experiences, discuss new research, and explore innovative approaches to treating obesity.

The conference served not only as a place to network with colleagues but also as a source of inspiration and motivation to advance obesity medicine. I highly recommend attending the OMA conference to anyone interested in expanding their knowledge and pushing the boundaries of obesity medicine. The relationships and insights gained from attending this conference are bound to propel the obesity medicine community forward toward a healthier future.

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Headshot of Jerome Puryear, Jr., M.D., MBA, DABOM, DABR, in front of a white background with a white coat on

Jerome Puryear, Jr., M.D., MBA, DABOM, DABR

Jerome Puryear, Jr., M.D., MBA, DABOM, DABR, is a Duke-trained health and wellness coach in Cincinnati, Ohio, who is passionate about helping clients create and sustain change for improved health and wellness. He is a radiologist and interventionist by training and currently serves on the Obesity Medicine Association CME Committee and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. When he is not working, you can find him running, lifting weights, playing tennis, or at the stretch lab.