Why 'Disease' Is A Phat Term For Obesity

The American Medical Association’s (AMA) decision to label obesity a disease is a boon for healthcare marketers.

Yet, some brands are not embracing this new moniker in their marketing efforts. 

Big mistake. 

Even before the AMA announcement, we had already recommended that healthcare brands strategically position obesity as a disease that can be treated.


Because research (online survey testing attitudes about obesity conducted by Adams & Knight in March 2013 with 300 overweight males and females, age 35+) shows that not only are many people afflicted with obesity, but many more want information on what to do about it. In a recent survey we conducted, we tested attitudes about obesity and found:  



• Widespread perception of obesity. Sixty-five% of respondents identified themselves or a family member as obese. 

• Incredible hunger for information. Results showed that each month, 13 million people search online for information on diet, 4 million search “diabetes,” and 1.5 million search “BMI.”  

• Huge agreement about the role of doctors in treatment. An overwhelming 75% of survey respondents said their primary care physician (PCP) played the most important role in helping them tackle their weight issue. Yet only 19% said he/she regularly discussed how to lower their Body Mass Index (BMI). 

This last finding was also highlighted in the National Survey of U.S. Primary Care Physicians’ Perspectives About Causes of Obesity and Solutions to Improve Care where doctors revealed they weren’t comfortable bringing up obesity with patients. And they admitted feeling under qualified (!) and lacking necessary education to discuss the topic and recommend treatment. 

So, how can healthcare marketers take the lead in helping build awareness for this disease? Here are a few ways: 

• Target strategic markets. Not simply doctors, patients and their families. But other healthcare professionals like nurses, practice managers, surgeons and other specialists who all have equal or greater access to patients and can influence awareness for the disease. 

• Distinguish patient audiences. Obese patients include: uninformed dieters, undiagnosed masses, those with co-morbidities like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, those who could be candidates for bariatric surgery and those considering treatment. By addressing the specific needs of each group, marketers can focus on what’s most relevant to each and tailor messaging that would be most beneficial.  

• Address needs of PCPs. A majority of overweight patients already regard their PCP as their prime source of information to help them lose weight. To make it easy for them to actually be this resource, consider creating digital TV or videos, which could play in doctors’ offices as patients wait for appointments and then encourage conversation. 

• Make BMI a key measurement. Create tools and talking points that eliminate the emotionally charged word, obesity. Advocate tracking BMI as routine part of checkups. This way doctors have a quantifiable way to discuss obesity in the same way as they track  other vital signs.  

• Leverage technology solutions. Take apps, for instance. We recently created one that not only tracks a patient’s vital signs but also automatically calculates BMI based on the height and weight information that a patient enters. 

• Educate on co-morbidities. Historically, hypertension and heart disease are two conditions that present with obesity. Think about ways to build awareness for these conditions. In one campaign, for example, we suggested a website to house content that both patients and physicians could learn from.   

• Outline treatment options. Patients may not know all the treatment options available to them. And doctors may not know where to send them for treatment. So creative solutions that drive to sources of weight loss programs, surgical solutions and preventative care are key.

Leveraging the latest news and research to develop marketing plans can help doctors treat, and patients deal with, obesity. In fact, you might say this strategy is totally phat.

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