Social Determinants of Health

A Fresh Look at Managing Obesity in Underserved Populations

Obesity is a global health crisis that increases the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and high blood sugar, and its relationship with lower-income populations is complex. The CDC examined data between 2011 and 2014 and found that among people with incomes below 130% of the federal poverty level (FPL), 39% were obese. For people with incomes between 130% and 350% of the FPL, the number rose to 41%. For organizations like FQHCs who work with underserved populations, this presents a challenge — in addressing obesity but also in understanding its causes, risk factors, and who’s at risk of developing the condition. 

The Complexity of Addressing Obesity

Obesity is a complex issue, and while it’s sometimes caused or exacerbated by overeating and a lack of willpower, other factors such as genetics, mental health issues, engineered foods, poor nutrition education, and food addiction can all be contributing factors. Additionally, social determinants of health are a key consideration when addressing obesity.

Food marketing that targets children is a good example. A study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity observed that food companies “almost exclusively target advertising for nutritionally poor products to Hispanic and Black consumers.” These foods include candy, sugary drinks, snacks, and fast-food — all foods high in fat, sugar, and calories and that are highly accessible in food deserts.

Minority, low-income women are particularly vulnerable, and it is widely acknowledged that these women are especially at risk of becoming overweight or obese because of work commitments, family demands, and limited resources for physical activity. As we observe Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s worth pointing out that, according to the American Cancer Society, being overweight or obese after menopause has been found to increase the risk of breast cancer.

The world is increasingly coming to understand that obesity is more than just poor health choices. Obesity is actually a public health and social issue that’s influenced by political, economic, and other factors.

Where Do FQHCs Fit In?

Obesity is an enormous problem but FQHCs are uniquely positioned to make a positive impact. This starts with helping patients feel supported in preventing and addressing obesity in their own lives.

Management in Primary Care

Your primary care environment can be a powerful tool in helping your patients manage obesity.

Recent studies have explored barriers to reducing obesity and proposed solutions. This Australian study highlights general practice as a primary point of contact for people seeking health services. It recommends using the primary care relationship as an opportunity to increase obesity awareness through upskilling general practitioners on evidence-based therapies in a way that takes local resources into account.

Physicians can be advocates of obesity solutions and supportive in creating individualized treatment plans for FQHC patients.

Weight Management Programs

Community Health Centers across the country are looking for effective strategies in combating obesity. Since it is a preventable risk factor for so many chronic diseases, weight management programs can provide exponential results for both patients and health centers.

Michigan-based MidWest Clinicians Network (MWCN) is an example of a health center that learned practical lessons from implementing a weight management program in their community. MWCN implemented weight management quality improvement in health centers across ten states using the following methods:

  • Recruiting sites that were interested in participation
  • Implementing learning sessions to share best practices, assist with data collection, and promote sustainability planning
  • Conducting learning session evaluations to tailor future sessions in an interactive way. 
  • Implementing quality improvement skill development, tracking, and team self-evaluation
  • Conducting qualitative interviews and data analysis

While obesity might be a growing challenge, FQHCs around the country can help to change that trend as they provide support for patients and communities working to address obesity in their daily lives.

If you want to take the first step toward educating your patients on weight management via accessible communications, send over your information below and we’ll get you started.

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