Geisler: It’s time to boost access to antiobesity meds


Peggy Geisler is the executive director of the Sussex County Health Coalition.

Obesity is one of America’s most pressing health epidemics, yet it has been consistently overlooked by policymakers. We have been aware of this crisis since 1999, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared obesity to be a public health epidemic. Yet, a quarter of a century later, we have seen very limited success in mitigating this pressing issue. While some leaders such as Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., have taken a proactive stance against the obesity epidemic, multiple administrations have not done enough. Unfortunately, the epidemic has fallen hardest on communities of color, which are already struggling with poverty and other health-related problems. Put simply, obesity has become a death spiral in which health complications lead to a rise in chronic disease, which leads to an increased strain on our nation’s health care system. As one would imagine, this leads to higher costs for all of us.

Obesity has a litany of comorbidities that present a daunting challenge for both patients and health care providers. These include heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, stroke and kidney disease. In 2022, a study conducted by the National Institute on Aging showed that the prevalence of obesity among seniors has doubled since the 1990s. The obesity epidemic afflicts every cohort, but African American, Hispanic and Native American communities have borne the brunt the hardest. All in all, it’s estimated that obesity-related illnesses can claim the lives of up to 300,000 Americans annually.

It’s also estimated that spending on obesity-related health care incurs costs of $1.72 trillion, which represents 9.3% of our economy. Due to the economic burden that obesity-related illnesses cause, low-income Americans often lack the resources to effectively manage their health care. It has become a reality that access to effective treatment is out of reach for an alarming number of patients.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. Recent studies have shown that something as simple as improved access to medications can have dramatic effects for those suffering with obesity. One recent study has shown that certain antiobesity medications can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases linked to obesity by up to 20%. The University of California Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics has projected that expanding access to these medications is estimated to have an offset worth $175 billion in Medicare spending in the first decade. Expanding access to such drugs through Medicare Part D is a simple solution that could save millions of lives and trillions in spending over the course of a few decades.

The Sussex County Health Coalition is an all-encompassing organization in the health sphere. As a result, it has seen the pernicious effects of the obesity epidemic at all levels of care. More equitable access to AOMs would have an extensive positive impact on the health of both Sussex County and Delaware at large. On a human level, such medicine can add years to life and life to years for those living with obesity — no one should be prohibited from enjoying the natural beauty of our seashore region. On the economic side, the money saved through improved health outcomes will not only benefit the state’s finances but also put more dollars into the local economy, stimulating small and family-owned businesses.

America now sits at a crossroad, and we need our leaders to take decisive action to combat the obesity epidemic directly. Congressional leaders and the administration must work together to expand access to antiobesity medications through Medicare Part D. This is the most efficient method to get these critical lifesaving drugs to those who need them the most. Not only is it the most cost-effective method of reducing overall health care spending, but it is the most moral and most efficacious action to take. If our current leaders stand aside and allow more Americans to continue to suffer from obesity, we risk digging ourselves into a deeper hole and further raising the cost of action on future generations.

Reader reactions, pro or con, are welcomed at

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.