Diverse, Innovative Approach Taken to STOP Obesity
In today’s business, political, academic and personal landscapes, getting people to agree on anything can be challenging. It may be even more challenging when you ask health insurance companies, public health agencies, healthcare providers, patients, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies to work together to solve one problem. Remarkably, that’s exactly what’s happening with the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance at The George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C.
STOP Obesity Alliance is headed by Christine Ferguson, who is the director of the organization and professor at The George Washington University’s Department of Health Policy. Previously, she worked as Commissioner of Public Health in Massachusetts, ran the Rhode Island Department of Human Services and spent more than 15 years working in various capacities with members of the U.S. Senate on various healthcare related issues.
Shortly after arriving at GW, Christine said she was approached by some of my colleagues here at Sanofi US about a project addressing cardiometabolic risk, but said as a group they agreed the underlying issue was something far bigger and decided to look at obesity as a whole and in an entirely different way.
“So much attention has been focused on prevention of obesity in children, nobody really wants to address the subject of treatment of adults,” Christine said. “We took that as a mandate to look at issues around adults.”
That decision eventually led to the formation of STOP Obesity Alliance and the partnership with various organizations. Currently on the STOP Obesity Alliance’s steering committee are organizations like the American Diabetes Association, The Obesity Society and 12 other groups who meet monthly. Additionally, the Alliance has federal Government Liaison Members and another 40-plus Associate Members.
“It’s not the usual suspects you normally see around this type of initiative,” Christine said. “That was intentional. It was very painstakingly thought through in the beginning, of who would be involved and in the level of professionalism in our approach.”
Christine says one of the first things the members of the group did was establish a core set of policy recommendations.
“We found there was no clear definition of successful intervention,” Christine said. “Some thought it was normal BMI, but the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute did research that said a 5-7 percent loss in weight gave significant improvement in health outcomes. As we implement programs in the public vein or private or with insurers and employers, it’s now clear what the definition of success is. In this case, it’s a 5 percent sustained weight loss. That changes the whole dynamic of the conversation.”
After establishing the first measure of success, Christine said the Alliance went on to additional recommendations to pursue. They include:
- A multi-factorial intervention should be tied to a clear definition of success.
- Weight loss is more than just personal responsibility and people who are not achieving success should have access to tools to help them meet their goals.
- More emphasis needs to be put on obesity research.
- Fitness and movement at any weight can significantly improve overall outcomes.
What’s even more amazing to me is that the 55+ groups that currently make up the STOP Obesity Alliance are making progress on the issue of obesity when they aren’t necessarily communicating on other issues.
“When they weren’t speaking to each other in any other arena, they were agreeing on this issue,” Christine said. “There was a level of agreement that there was not with any other issue.”
Christine said the next few years will be exciting for her and the Alliance. She said the work of the group has led to other opportunities outside of the Alliance – including work with the FDA to add patients, physicians and other stakeholders to their process of making decisions on drugs to help in treating obesity. There is also plenty of work going on at the state level to combat the obesity issue in the U.S., so she urges us all to get informed and to keep watching our home states.
It was a pleasure to get a peek inside such an important group of people and organizations and I know I will be watching to see what continues to come out of the STOP Obesity Alliance. Thanks to Christine for taking the time to chat with us!
All the best,
Disclosure: Christine Ferguson received no compensation for this post. All opinions contained in this post reflect those of the interviewee, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies or affiliates.
The Strategies to Overcome and Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance receives funding from founding sponsor, Sanofi US.