What does it mean to be obesity medicine certified?

Dr. Danielle DonDiego

Obesity is a complex and chronic disease that requires specialized knowledge and skills to manage effectively and empathetically. Obesity medicine board certification demonstrates that a healthcare provider has undergone training and has the knowledge and expertise to provide evidence-based care for individuals with obesity.

Is obesity a disease?

Yes. According to the CDC and AMA, obesity is a disease. In addition to impacting a patient directly, obesity also increases one’s risk for a number of other health conditions, like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. 

That’s why it’s crucial for individuals with obesity to receive care from a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about the latest treatment approaches and can provide appropriate support to help patients manage their weight and improve their overall health—without weight bias or stigma. 

What is obesity medicine?

Obesity medicine is a medical specialty that focuses on the evaluation, treatment, and prevention of obesity. Although any physician may obtain this certification, it is most often sought after by primary care physicians (like family doctors or internists) or those who see and treat obesity and its comorbidities regularly (e.g. endocrinologists or bariatric surgeons). It is a multidisciplinary field that involves the use of a range of approaches, including lifestyle modification, medication/pharmacology, talk therapy, and surgery, to help individuals achieve and maintain a healthy weight. 

What are the benefits of seeing a physician who is certified in obesity medicine?

Obtaining a board certification in obesity medicine ensures that healthcare providers are up-to-date on the latest research and guidelines related to obesity treatment and management, which can provide patients with high-quality care.

Clinicians who are obesity medicine certified also receive training on weight stigma in bias in medicine. Dr. Spencer Nadolsky and I discuss this topic more in the Episode 1 of the Sequence Podcast, which you can watch for free.

How do you get obesity medicine certified?

Obesity medicine board certification is a process by which a healthcare professional demonstrates that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to effectively manage the care of patients with obesity. 

To be certified in obesity medicine, a healthcare professional must meet certain eligibility criteria, complete an approved training program, and pass a board exam. Usually, there is specific coursework you must complete. 

Who offers certification?

Obesity medicine certification is offered through professional organizations such as the American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) or the Obesity Medicine Association (OMA). 

The American Board of Obesity Medicine (ABOM) was founded in 2011. It is a professional medical organization that certifies physicians and other healthcare providers in the field of obesity medicine. The ABOM is dedicated to improving the care and treatment of individuals affected by obesity through the development and administration of a certification process for healthcare providers who specialize in obesity medicine.

The Obesity Medicine Association (OMA) was founded in 2010. It is a professional organization that represents physicians and other healthcare providers who specialize in the field of obesity medicine. The OMA's mission is to "advance the practice of obesity medicine and improve the health and well-being of those affected by obesity." The organization provides resources, education, and support to its members and works to promote evidence-based approaches to the prevention and treatment of obesity. 

How can a practitioner become obesity medicine certified?

To be eligible for certification, you must have a valid medical license and complete a certain number of hours of training in obesity medicine. The training may include courses in areas such as the biology of obesity, nutrition, physical activity, behavioral change, and pharmacotherapy. You can learn more about the specific certification requirements for the ABOM or the OMA on their websites. 

How do obesity specialists work with primary care physicians?

Often, obesity specialists will be double-board-certified—e.g. with internal or family medicine—and operate, themselves, as primary care physicians. But in the instances when a patient has both an obesity specialist and a PCP, the two work closely in tandem. Obesity specialists may provide consultations, recommend treatment options, and monitor progress to help individuals achieve their weight loss goals.

Lifestyle modification is typically the first line of treatment for obesity and may involve counseling on diet, exercise, and behavior change. Medications may be used to help reduce appetite or improve metabolism, and surgery may be recommended for individuals with severe obesity who have not been able to achieve weight loss through other means.

Overall, the goal of obesity medicine is to help individuals achieve and maintain a healthy weight in order to reduce the risk of obesity-related health problems, such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. This often increases the patients quality of life, and mental health in many instances. 

The future of obesity medicine:

Obesity medicine certification is becoming increasingly important as the prevalence of obesity continues to rise. The CDC estimates that about 42% of U.S. adults have obesity, which is a major risk factor for a number of serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and certain cancers. Healthcare professionals who are board certified in obesity medicine are able to provide specialized care to patients with obesity, including counseling on lifestyle changes, prescribing medications, and recommending surgery when appropriate. The field of obesity medicine is constantly growing and evolving, and we hope to become more normalized in everyday practice across the country.

Since 2017, the number of doctors with ABOM certifications has more than tripled— to there now being more than 6,000 physicians.

The OMA has seen a similar rise in interest in the field of obesity medicine, with there now being more than 4,500 healthcare providers who are OMA-certified.  

I believe the field of obesity, though relatively new, has incredible potential. Each year, studies are coming out about new medications and treatment techniques.

We’re undergoing a cultural shift in how we perceive obesity in the U.S., with the media and public perception catching up to the science—that obesity is a chronic condition for which there are additional treatment tools aside from just exercise and hardcore dieting.  

Dr. Danielle DonDiego

About the Author

Dr. DonDiego is a double-board-certified Family & Obesity medicine doctor, professional business mentor, and published author of "Self-Care Rx". Her medical focus is on treating obesity via telehealth to patients across the United States and championing the highest forms of self-care.

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