By Dr. Ari Bernstein

Obesity is a serious health problem in the U.S., where it affects an estimated 42.4% of the adult population. According to the CDC, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4% between 2000 and 2018.

Telehealth is a relatively new medical practice that can help close the gap between access to obesity treatment and common barriers such as transportation and convenience.

Here’s a closer look at how telehealth can help change the ongoing U.S. obesity epidemic.

How Is Obesity Defined?

Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A person can calculate their BMI by dividing their weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. For example, a person who weighs 200 pounds and is 5 feet, 5 inches tall has a BMI of 33.3, which is considered obese. Severe obesity is defined as a BMI of 40 or higher and is linked to an increased risk of severe illness, including COVID-19.

Causes of Obesity

Obesity is a largely preventable disease commonly caused by a combination of behavioral influences and lifestyle choices. Lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and stress are some of the many common causes of obesity. Obesity also tends to run in families, though the cause of obesity in these instances tends to be more behavioral (eating the same foods, adopting the same lifestyle habits), than hereditary or genetic.

Complications of Obesity

Obesity can increase one’s risk of developing a wide range of severe health problems and comorbid disorders due to the way excess body fat interferes with normal bodily processes. For instance, obesity puts excess pressure on blood vessels to increase the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke. Severe obesity and related comorbid disorders such as asthma, diabetes, and heart conditions have all been identified as risk factors for COVID-19.

How Can Telehealth Change the Obesity Pandemic?

Telehealth offers a wide range of benefits for those who are struggling with obesity and need help becoming healthier. In the U.S., rates of obesity tend to be higher among people who live in rural vs. urban areas. People who live in rural areas generally lack easy access to health care, but telehealth can eliminate travel and give patients more freedom to choose doctors who live outside of their local areas. Telehealth can also provide patients with remote education that emphasizes the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise.

A study published in a 2018 issue of the Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare showed that 86 patients who lived in rural areas and received telehealth treatment lost an average of 3.5% body weight by the end of the trial. In an April 2017 issue of European Research in Telemedicine, 116 patients with obesity were randomly assigned to receive either telehealth or in-person treatment. Results showed that patients in the telehealth group experienced more significant reductions in triglycerides and higher increases in “good” HDL cholesterol levels than the in-person group.

Overcoming Obesity with Fruit Street Health

Fruit Street Health is the only CDC recognized and endorsed virtual diabetes prevention program that helps people lose excess weight and decrease their risk for type 2 diabetes.

With Fruit Street Health, patients receive certain wearables that help monitor their progress in the program. The dieticians at Fruit Street Health can access this data remotely and work with patients to modify lifestyle behaviors and consult with them on their nutrition and fitness plans. In addition to reducing the risk for type 2 diabetes, Fruit Street Health can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke and help patients achieve improved overall health.

Those who want to sign up for Fruit Street Health can take a 1-minute quiz to determine whether they qualify for this service. Eligible patients can receive access to 26 live video conferencing sessions with a dietitian, a free wireless scale, and the opportunity to earn a free FitBit Activity Tracker™.

Sign up for Fruit Street Health today for more information and to see whether you qualify.