Today’s guest post comes from Ian Patton. Ian is the Vice Chair of the Canadian Obesity Network’s Public Engagement Committee. You can find out more about Ian here.
A while back, an American colleague of mine was asking about life in Canada. “Are you all really that nice? What is the deal with Tim Hortons? And is healthcare really that great up there?” My initial thought to the last question was a resounding “oh yeah”. Our healthcare is publicly funded – if you are sick, you get treated. We don’t have absurd price gouging and regardless of socioeconomic status, you have access without fear of bankruptcy. We also have some of the finest medical professionals in the world. Oh yeah, we do it way better. Go Canada Go.
I then reflected a little deeper. As proud as I am of being Canadian and some of the rights and privileges we have, we are far from perfect and we have much room for improvement.
I am sick. I have a chronic pervasive and recurring condition from which there is no known cure. My condition is one that is exceedingly complex – there are genetic factors that are slowly becoming more and more known, but the research is not complete. My condition has environmental factors that strongly influence the disease. My condition, like many other chronic diseases, is also influenced by behavioural factors. What is not widely understood is the physiological and psychological components that make my condition so challenging to live with and more importantly to treat.
My disease is the only one that I can think of where it is still socially acceptable to shame an individual for their condition. My disease is the only one I can think of where individuals seeking help and treatment do not have access to evidence-based treatment from our glorious health care system, and are often left to fend for ourselves, setting us up for perpetual failure.
I am an individual living with obesity, and have been for most of my life. A chronic, recurring disease, acknowledged by the World Health Organization and the Canadian Medical Association.
As a kinesiologist, I appreciate the amazing machine that is our body. But sometimes it takes this survival thing a bit to far, to the point of harm. My body fights me as I try to deal with this disease. As I make behavioral changes to adapt, my body makes hormonal, psychological, and physiological changes to undo any modification I have made. It is a never-ending struggle. I lose weight, my body interprets the loss as an attack on my survival and changes to bring the weight back. Like any chronic disease, my condition requires a constant and multifaceted approach to treatment.
Obesity is a challenging disease that affects millions of Canadians. While there are evidence-based treatments available, the vast majority of Canadians with my condition are not being treated. There are professionals who can help with the behavioural components and there are medications and surgical interventions all clinically proven to help with the management of this disease. Yet, access to this management system is virtually non- existent in Canada. Only 0.05% of Canadian doctors are certified to treat my condition. The medication that can help people like me is not covered under provincial or extended health plans, and is financially inaccessible for almost everyone. The waitlist for the surgical procedures is two years for much of Canada and much longer in some areas, allowing for the disease to progress and cause more problems. According to the Report Card on Access to Obesity Treatment for Adults in Canada, Canada receives a failing grade.
How is it possible that in a health care system that is touted as one of the prideful qualities of our country, that a chronic disease is not being treated? If I told you that I was living with cancer, or diabetes, or hypertension and there was no access to treatment, there would be outrage.
So where is the outrage for obesity?