As Ohio County Healthcare works to expand its surgical wing, it will also be able to expand its weight loss management program to begin offering bariatric surgery, along with other weight loss services.
Dr. Nicole Akers, who works with OCH patients on weight loss management, said the expansion of weight loss management services is significant for Ohio County residents who want to reach certain goals to enjoy a healthier life altogether.
“Struggling with obesity is something that is near and dear to my heart,” she said. “I have struggled with obesity my entire adult life, so after I finished my family medicine residency, I went on to do a scholarship in obesity medicine.”
According to Kentucky Health Facts, more than 71% of Ohio County adults are considered overweight, with a 35% obesity rate, which is higher than regional and state averages.
Akers said there are some barriers to living a healthy lifestyle and experiencing weight loss, such as access to healthy foods and education about what are healthy foods and what are not.
Additionally, she said, it is more expensive, many times, to eat healthier.
Insurance coverage can also be a barrier, as many plans, she said, do not cover preventative programs such as weight loss management or bariatric surgeries.
However, weight management, she said, is not simply about losing weight. It is also about being healthier, feeling better and helping patients manage other conditions that might be affected by weight management, such as blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint pain and heart disease, among many others.
“All of that can get better when we change our lifestyles to lose weight,” she said.
While some patients might benefit from lifestyle changes or medications, others might also benefit from surgery, Akers said, so adding it is an important step in addressing weight loss concerns in the community and promoting healthy lifestyles.
Along with surgery, Akers said patients are provided with guidance moving forward regarding their diet, how to make healthy choices and how to change some habits that might create barriers to a healthy lifestyle.
“Most weight loss programs or bariatric surgery programs in the United States are typically just a surgeon’s office where they focus more on people who just want surgery,’’ she said. “You’re kind of released into the wild and people get lost — they feel overwhelmed. They know that their body hurts if they do this, so they stop eating, but they don’t necessarily learn how to eat healthy.”
The program at OCH, she said, works to individualize the program to fit each patient’s needs and offer guidance throughout their weight loss journey to reach their goals.
Weight loss management, according to Cece Robinson, OCH community outreach coordinator, is something that has been a barrier to health in the community for some time, according to findings from its community needs assessment.
Expanding this program to offer needed services, she said, is an additional way OCH can help patients “have healthy, vibrant lives.”