The World Health Organization listed physical inactivity and unhealthy diets as major risk factors to diabetes, cancer and heart disease in its 2019 Global Threats Report. However, obesity is more complex than calories and exercise.
Those who know the disease best are working to change the perception of possible solutions.
Jeanine Sherman's first thought on weight loss surgery was similar to a common perception: it's the easy way out or a last-resort method to lose weight.
“And I thought, ‘really? Bariatric surgery? Am I to that point?’” she says.
At 5-foot-5-inches tall and around 230 pounds, Sherman’s primary care doctor told her she was a candidate when she asked about weight loss medication. At the time, Sherman had a very high BMI but no other weight-related health issues.
For three years, Sherman researched ways she could avoid surgery.
“If I copy this lifestyle, live the lifestyle of a bariatric patient and if I learned their daily eating habits, their exercise habits, well then I can lose the weight and not have bariatric surgery,” she recalls thinking.
After gaining 30 additional pounds, Sherman decided surgery was best.
“I tell anybody that I talk to that, that day is one of the top ten days of my life,” she says.
Maintaining her weight around 143 pounds now, Sherman found her voice through the hashtag #iamabariatricpatient.
“Many patients were ashamed to talk about the surgery and didn’t want to share that they had surgery with friends or family,” Sherman says.
Sherman says stigmatizing someone because of their weight will typically only cause them to gain weight, not lose it.
The Obesity Action Coalition tries to break the stigma with support.
The group's president says they created a place online called Weight of the World.
People share their experiences of living with obesity.
There has been progress in breaking stigma since obesity was recognized as a disease.
“We've seen a lot of companies invest in whether its medical, behavioral or surgical treatments for obesity,” says Joseph Nadglowski, Jr., president of the Obesity Action Coalition.
The FDA approved a new weight loss device for obesity this year, and United Healthcare was first to drop what doctors called an unnecessary requirement of bariatric surgery.
But until access and perception improve, even more people like Sherman need to be heard.
“We can make a difference for those patients when it comes to stigma five, 10 years from now,” says Sherman.