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New Drugs Could Help Treat Obesity. Could They End the Stigma, Too?

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Dr. Kushner is more hopeful and points to the example of statins, which lower cholesterol and became available in the late 1980s. Until then, doctors could only suggest that patients with high cholesterol cut back on eggs and red meat.

Doctors “embraced statins,” Dr. Kushner said, because they could at last treat this condition. More powerful incretins, he added, could have the same effect on the medical profession.

He is unsure, though, whether patients will accept the disease label. They’ve been conditioned, he said, to believe that their weight is their own fault; all they have to do is eat healthier and exercise more.

When talking with patients, he doesn’t spend 20 minutes trying to convince them that they have a disease. In fact, he deliberately avoids using the word “disease” and instead says “condition” or “problem.”

“I tell them this is a chronic ongoing medical problem, just like diabetes,” he said.

Members of the general public pose a different challenge, Dr. Kushner said. With them, he said, “we may need to use a term like ‘disease.’”

He likens the situation to that of alcoholism or drug addiction, which was once thought to be indicative of a weak will or a moral failing. Researchers have successfully changed the conversation; many people now know that those who abuse alcohol or drugs have a disease and need treatment.

As for Ms. Greenleaf, she wants to take semaglutide again. The pounds crept back when the trial ended.

Obesity, she now realizes, “is not your fault.”

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