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A recent article in the New York Times got my blood boiling this morning. The article cites a few medical professionals (and others) talking about how to fatten profits from offering weight loss products, potions, procedures and magic pills. In particular Dr. Kaplan (touted as a “leader in the medical weight loss industry) talks about his Long Island Weight Loss Institute and the various products and services he offers people to help them lose weight.
In fact, Kaplan is so well known as an expert in the industry that he has started a consulting business to help other doctors. Is he helping other doctors figure out what are the best evidence-based options for helping their clients actually lose weight. Well no. He’s helping doctors figure out how to increase their bottom line by teaching primary care doctors how to bill insurers for obesity treatments.
This is a very big business, at least in part, due to a provision in the federal health care law requiring insurers to pay for nutrition and obesity screening. Marketdata Enterprises Research Director John La Rosa has studied the weight loss industry for more than 20 years. In an interview cited in the Times, La Rosa estimates that medical weight loss programs currently bring in $1 Billion annually–a number he expects to grow 5 percent annually at least through 2019. La Rosa calls the Federal health care provision a “game changer” and mentioned a seminar he recently sponsored advising entrepreneurs to take advantage of the insurance coverage by opening their own weight loss clinics.
While the profits appear to be new, the procedures being sold don’t seem to be new at all. In fact many of the procedures, potions, chants, and magic pills offered have not been proven to be effective or have even been discredited as widely ineffective. Kaplan’s own office offers very low calorie diets, meal replacements, B12 shots and vitamin supplements. None of these techniques have been demonstrated effective for anything but very short term weight loss which typically begins to reverse very shortly after the treatment period (which can be as short as six weeks). What’s more, many of these programs offer little medical supervision. The patients are often actually seen by nurse practitioners or physician’s assistants with little specialized training in the fields of nutrition or bariatric care. One company, Medi-Weightloss (with over 76 locations throughout the country) advertised for a medical director at its Connecticut facility stating that the hours are “not very demanding” stating that files could be reviewed remotely and “there are no set hours or emergency calls”.
Now don’t get me wrong. I think most doctors work very hard in a system that is not very hospitable to good medicine. And I am an entrepreneur. I believe in the power of invention and good business practices. But when you are holding seminars to teach guys in white coats the best way to get insurance companies to reimburse the same snake oil they have been trying to sell us for centuries, I get a bit miffed. I think people are entitled to research-based medicine. And by research-based, I mean medicine that is proven to be effective, not just turn an ever increasing profit.
In this country, not everyone has access to even basic, decent medical care. Medicine is very expensive here. And we are often taught that the reason that medical care is so expensive here is that the fatties are driving up the costs. So the idea that doctors are learning to fatten their profits at the expense of their fat patients has got me more than a little upset. Lets give every BODY access to bias-free, evidence-based, reasonable healthcare. And let’s put the fat-shaming, profit mongering medical weight loss industry on restriction. That would seem to be the healthy thing to do for our bodies and for our economy.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. Want me to come and speak about evidence-based medicine and wellness to your group? Go here. Or just email me at jeanette at thefatchick dot com for more info.