"My name is Andreas and I live with obesity. I don't have obesity myself, but my parents have been obese and my fiancé, Melanie, is currently living with this chronic disease. So while I do not personally carry the burden of obesity, I still face its impact – every single day."
Andreas Herdt, Disease Experience Expert, Germany
Melanie and I face the impact of obesity almost everywhere in daily life. Simple things like buying a chair or a bed can give us a headache. We can try to find furniture built to carry the weight needed, but this dramatically limits choice (especially as we have at least minimal requirements for nice design). Or we buy what we actually like and live with the risk that it might break down.
Planning a night out together can be just as difficult. We start by selecting a location that – beyond all the usual criteria like quality and atmosphere – also has to provide appropriate seating, with chairs that are large, stable and ideally without arm rests. Also, the entrance needs to be accessible, without too many steps, and close to the parking lot.
"Even going to the doctor is difficult. We never know if the furniture will fit, or whether the medical equipment is designed to work for a person whose size and weight are not the 'norm'."
Transport in general is another headache. Melanie has a disability status due to her limited mobility, but this status is not adequate to access designated parking spaces. Public transport would be an easier choice for me, but not for Melanie. The train station in our hometown has neither a lift nor escalators, and the 40 steps to the platform present a serious obstacle for her. Going on holiday is even more challenging, especially if flights are involved. It requires a lot of forward planning to prevent a vacation turning into a disaster.
Even going to the doctor is surprisingly difficult. We never know if the furniture in the waiting room or examination room will fit, or whether the medical equipment will be designed to work for a person whose size and weight are not the 'norm'. Blood pressure cuffs may not be long enough, and dentist chairs, computerised tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) systems are generally limited in the amount of weight they can carry. So we need to clarify all this with the doctor's office upfront – or we risk getting sent home without being examined at all.
At the start of our relationship, I did not pay enough attention to all these obstacles. I overestimated Melanie's physical abilities and expected too much of her. This sometimes landed us in situations that neither of us liked.
Since then, I have learned what I can ask of her, and I try to take her limits into consideration in whatever we do. Now Melanie is becoming more confident and trying things she has not done for a long time, such as agreeing to fly in economy class together.
"It might be hard to find anyone who is not affected by this disease, who is not 'co-obese' in some way, like I am."
So, this is how I live with obesity – and I surely have the easier part, of the two of us. Meanwhile, a quarter of the population has the harder part of living with this complex chronic disease, and the numbers are growing at a frightening rate.
Counting in everybody who is a friend, relative, customer or co-worker of somebody who lives with obesity, it might be hard to find anyone who is not affected by this disease, who is not 'co-obese' in some way, like I am. So why should any of us accept society's failure to address these challenges?
This little story goes out to all of you who are experiencing similar situations, or who know somebody who is living with obesity. Please do not remain silent. Do not just accept things the way they are. Try to change the world and make it a better place, little by little, person by person!
Novo Nordisk's Disease Experience Expert Panels (DEEPs) bring together individuals living with serious chronic diseases, including obesity, to provide insights and advice based on their experiences.
Beyond the daily physical challenges, people with obesity regularly encounter weight bias and stigma. This can have serious consequences for their health and quality of life. Changing these negative attitudes and behaviours will empower more people with obesity to reach their health goals.