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Obama Battles Obesity and Hospital Visitation Discrimination


A third of kids and nearly half of adults are obese - up 50 percent in three decades. But the nation seems as poised as ever to tackle the problem, with Michelle Obama and the White House making obesity a national priority. And back in April, President Obama asked Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius to write new hospital visitation rules. But what kind of changes can patients expect? On this week's show, the Obama health care legacy that has nothing to do with health care reform.

Listen to this episode.

Segment 1: The Obesity Epidemic

If you're looking for good news on the obesity front, there is some: recent data suggests that the national obesity rate has plateaued. Unfortunately it's plateaued at a really high level. 70 percent of us are overweight. The obesity rate is double what it was three decades ago. And our kids are three times more likely to be obese than they were in the '70s. What happened? Did food change? Did the environment change? Did we change?  And is there anything we can do about it? City and state governments have been contemplating "sin taxes" for soda and junk food. Weight loss surgery has become a popular alternative to treating obesity. And earlier this year, a White House Childhood Obesity Task Force released a report full of recommendations for changing the way we battle what many call a national crisis, if not a full-blown epidemic.

This week's guest is Dr. Maria Collazo-Clavell. Dr. Collazo-Clavell is an associate professor of medicine in the department of Internal Medicine at the Mayo Clinic Medical School in Rochester, MN. Her specialties include the clinical study of obesity and its complications as well as weight loss interventions.

Segment 2: The Potential Limitations of Obama's Hospital Visitation Policy

"There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital."

The opening line of Barack Obama's April memorandum to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius. Obama asked for rules to be created ensuring that all hospitals that participate in Medicare or Medicaid respect the rights of patients to designate visitors. As Obama's memo explained, the problem is that patients are too often denied access to loved ones who aren't, by law, family members. Although the memo identified childless widows and members of religious orders as potential beneficiaries of these new rules, Obama made particular note of lesbian and gay Americans as being "uniquely affected" by a status quo that can keep them from their partners in their time of greatest need. High-profile incidents had given a special sense of urgency to the Obama memo, including that of Janice Lanbehn and Lisa Pond, in which Ms. Lanbehn, along with her four children, were denied access to her partner of 18 years as Ms. Pond died from a brain aneurysm in a Florida hospital.

Here to discuss the likely consequences of Obama's memorandum is Carole Levine. Ms. Levine is the Director of the Families and Health Care Project at the United Hospital Fund and a Fellow at The Hastings Center, a nonprofit bioethics research institution located in New York State.

Guides for navigating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for patients and families are available at