When I was a barely-twenty-something at Iowa State, computer-modeling human metabolism back in the early days of programming, I had no way of knowing that I was then flirting with what would later become the great passion of my professional life. I lost sight of it briefly, but when I found my way back, I was ready for its ardent embrace. A short stint in the private sector post-graduation as a product engineer at Procter & Gamble reminded me that my heart was elsewhere; I wanted to help people in a hands-on way. So I went to medical school. I graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and stayed for a twinned residency in internal medicine and pediatrics, before moving on to the Twin Cities to practice primary care. It was there, at the University of Minnesota, while treating children with obesity, that I came face-to-face with my true passion again. My total commitment to obesity medicine followed soon after. I became the medical director for the Metabolic Health and Weight Management Clinic at Park Nicollet and ultimately moved back to Cincinnati to create a multidisciplinary medical-surgical weight center at my alma mater. I’ve been practicing medicine for about twenty-five years now, and happily practicing obesity medicine and metabolic health full-time for the past ten.
On reflection, it makes sense that I’d come home to obesity medicine through pediatrics. During childhood, I’d witnessed my brother have obesity. I still see him deal with this disease every day, well into adulthood. As for me, I was comparatively lucky: my struggle with weight showed up later—once I’d had a child and my work-life balance went stressfully out of wack. I developed sleep apnea and hypertension as a result and knew that, for myself and for my body (and may not be true for all), I needed to lose weight for my health. I already ate well and I exercised often, but I increased my focus on improving my lifestyle habits. All to no effect. Ultimately, I needed to address my weight with the full suite of obesity medicine services. Years of studying it, treating it, and experiencing it first-hand have taught me categorically that obesity is a disease, and that people living with obesity deserve medical care -- free from moral judgment and discrimination whether they are seeking comprehensive primary care, weight and cardiometabolic health management or obesity treatment, all should be welcome without bias or stigma.
For the 115 million people living with the disease of obesity in the US today there are only about five thousand obesity medicine specialists, including me. People living with obesity need care. We need care that dispenses with weight-based stigma because it recognizes obesity for what it is: a chronic and sometimes life-long disease. We need better care with easier access. We need empathetic care that encourages us to be the best versions of ourselves, regardless of what the scale says. And we need it now. Delivering the care that we need is my personal and professional mission. It is also the promise that Brooke and I have placed at the heart of knownwell.
Angela Fitch, MD, FACP, FOMA is a leader in the field of obesity medicine. She is the current president of the Obesity Medicine Association and the 2017 winner of their Clinician of the Year Award. She served as chair of the clinical management section of the Obesity Society in 2015–2016. She practiced primary care for 10 years before becoming a diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine in 2012. She comes to knownwell by way of Boston, where she divides her time between academia, activism, and medicine. She is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, the former co-director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center, a board member of the Obesity Action Coalition, and a founding member of the Massachusetts Coalition for Action on Obesity. Dr. Fitch is board-certified in obesity medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics.
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