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Civil Rights & Health Equity Leaders Declare “Emergency” Around Discriminatory Obesity Policy that Denies Treatment to Communities of Color; Calls on Congress & Biden Administration to Take Urgent Action

Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease Issues Five Urgent Priorities for Congress & the Biden Administration to Address Growing Obesity Epidemic in 2023 and Its Disproportionate Impact on Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Health Equity Coalition for Chronic Disease (HECCD) declared a health emergency for communities of color being disproportionately impacted by the growing obesity epidemic, and called on Congress and the Biden administration to prioritize a series of urgent actions for 2023 — including eliminating discriminatory Medicare policies that deny people of color access to comprehensive obesity treatment. The coalition — which includes prominent civil rights leaders and medical experts — made their calls for action in a report released today, warning that the current obesity epidemic is becoming “a health crisis that will spur irreversible consequences,” and that if policy makers fail to act next year, marginalized communities will be further plunged into costly and dangerous battles with the chronic disease.

“Despite being a preventable and treatable disease, rates of obesity continue growing at a breakneck pace across communities of color, causing destructive health consequences that are crippling the finances, futures, and physical health of millions of people of color … Addressing the discriminatory policies that currently underpin Medicare — one of the nation’s largest health care insurance programs — is critical to remove existing barriers that prevent millions from accessing the treatment they need to effectively and successfully fight this chronic disease,” the report states.

The obesity epidemic is one of the worst public health crises in the U.S. and this year it surged to unprecedented levels — with 60% of Black women and nearly half of all Black and Hispanic Americans now living with obesity. The number of states with high rates of adult obesity more than doubled since 2018. Despite this dangerous surge, Medicare continues to exclude FDA-approved anti-obesity medications from Medicare Part D coverage, a discriminatory and outdated policy from 2003 that hasn’t been updated to align with breakthroughs in obesity care and treatment in the twenty years since it was enacted — and which continues to deny comprehensive treatment to communities of color both reliant on Medicare and disproportionately shouldering the burden of obesity. 

“The data is clear. Why then, is obesity care not fully covered under our federal health programs? For Black Americans — exclusions like these can mean the difference between life or death,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton alongside other Black clergy leaders from coalition member ChooseHealthyLife in an op-ed in USA Today earlier this year. 

Five Urgent Priorities for Congress & Biden Administration
The coalition said that while addressing the discriminatory policies that currently underpin Medicare — one of the nation’s largest health care insurance programs — is critical to remove existing barriers that prevent millions from accessing the treatment they need, an “all of government” approach is needed to effectively combat the epidemic. 

The coalition is calling on Congress and the administration to prioritize a five urgent policy actions in 2023 including:
1. Medicare must provide access to the full continuum of obesity treatment and care, including anti- obesity medications. 
2. Require federal policy to reinforce the full continuum of care through workforce training and federal program coverage policies.
3. Prioritize efforts at the CDC and other federal agencies to end the use of language that reinforces negative stereotypes and perpetuates stigma around obesity. End the widespread stigmatization of people with obesity. 
4. Require Medicare to provide access to behavioral and nutritional counseling without the requirement of co-morbidities. 
5. Through Medicare and Medicaid, expand the federal government’s use of innovative programs that increase access to fruits and vegetables, and initiatives that educate families and individuals on how to incorporate these foods into a healthy diet.

The full report and comprehensive policy priorities can be accessed here

To request a media interview with a Coalition leader, please contact Shafeeqa Kolia at

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