BIPARTISAN POLICY CENTER
focuses on obesity
Established in 2007, the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) is a Washington, DC-based think tank that actively promotes bipartisanship to address key challenges facing the United States. Dr. Anand Parekh is BPC’s chief medical advisor providing clinical and public health expertise across the organization, particularly in the areas of aging, prevention, and global health. Prior to joining BPC, he completed a decade of service at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). A board-certified internist, Dr. Parekh is an adjunct assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. He recently spoke with ABOM about the BPC’s obesity efforts.
Where does addressing the obesity epidemic fit into the current priorities of the Bipartisan Policy Center?
The Bipartisan Policy Center has a robust Health Program that aims to improve health and reduce the burden of health care costs through delivery system reform and financing, prevention and population health, and health innovation and technology. On obesity specifically, BPC focuses on developing healthy institutions, demonstrating the value of prevention, improving training for health care professionals, and aligning federal agriculture and nutrition policy with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Our 2012 report, Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future, identified actionable steps the public and private sectors can take to reduce rising health care costs associated with the decline of our nation’s physical health and nutrition.
What role should physicians play in addressing the obesity epidemic?
BPC’s 2014 paper, “Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care”, stresses that physicians should play a primary role in a larger, systemic shift toward more preventive care that utilizes the full range of health professionals. Physicians should support this as leaders of interdisciplinary teams, as thoughtful participants on professional practice and education committees, and as respected members of their community advocating for policies that will reduce obesity rates.
If legislative and financial hurdles didn’t exist, what is the one policy you would enact right now that you think would have the biggest impact on obesity?
This issue is very complicated and there is no silver bullet but BPC believes training health professionals in nutrition and physical activity is imperative. Today, two in three Americans are overweight or have obesity. Yet only one in eight visits with a doctor involves counseling on the benefits of a healthy diet. And only 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science. That’s why BPC joined forces a year ago with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Alliance for a Healthier Generation (the Alliance), and Institute of Medicine (IOM) in a new national effort to ensure medical students, physicians, nurses, and other health professionals are taught about how to initiate discussions with patients that help prevent or treat obesity. The group is also working with public and private payers to ensure that these services are then paid for.
What appeals to you about working on the policy side of health care rather than direct patient care?
The opportunity to have an impact by potentially improving the health of populations as opposed to just individuals is what gets me up in the morning. While I miss direct patient care, I believe my clinical experiences and understanding of the doctor-patient relationship are helpful when designing optimal health policies.