Preceding my year as president, we made a concentrated effort to lobby members of congress to include obesity treatment specifically among the conditions singled out for inclusion in the minimum healthcare package required for participation in the insurance exchanges. While that effort was not successful, it is apparent that we have made an increasing impact on Capitol Hill, as evidenced by the greater support for the presently pending obesity bill.
It became immediately apparent to me that representing surgeons only was a limitation to our effectiveness in our lobbying effort. In addition, the number of people your organization represents is an important factor in determining who in the congressional office you get to meet. I therefore led the effort to establish a formal coalition with The Obesity Society, the Obesity Action Coalition and the American Dietetic Association, now known as the American Academy of Nutrition. Thus, we became a multidisciplinary advocacy group, most importantly including the patients or people affected by obesity. We consolidated our effort with a single lobbyist who has been most effective. For example, his most recent accomplishment was lobbying at the AMA meeting to get the delegates to out-vote their so-called scientific advisory board in declaring obesity to be a disease. This is a behind the scenes activity, but still an important step forward as we advocate for fair treatment of the severely obese.
An additional focus of my year as president was to bring bariatric surgery and the ASMBS into prominence at NIH and throughout the field of obesity, diabetes and related conditions. Many others contributed to this effort and share credit for transforming the academic reputation of bariatric surgery to one of a legitimate participant in basic and clinical research. My role as the chair of the LABS Steering Committee and the only surgeon member of the task force to revise the NIH guidelines on obesity facilitated this effort.
Also during my year, the stage was set for terminating the failing agreement with SRC and aligning ourselves with the ACS. While not everyone thinks this was a good move, there was no option. Robin Blackstone should appropriately take credit for this organizational step forward.
I would say the most important aspect on the history of our organization is our concentrated effort to advocate on behalf of the severely obese. I am not aware of any other discipline in which the people afflicted with the disease are the subject of concentrated bias at all levels. This theme has been a hallmark of the ASBS/ASMBS from the start and it’s one we can be proud of. The problem is not resolved but progress has been made.
Bruce Wolfe, MD