Bariatric Update: What You Eat and Who You Know

Your clients' chances of developing obesity are directly influenced by their friends and families. Research funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and published in the July 26, 2007 New England Journal of Medicine finds that obesity actually follows the connections created by social networks, even when the people in the network live far apart. As a non-obese person becomes socially closer to overweight or obese persons, the risk of both people becoming and remaining obese shoots up dramatically. Conversely, weight loss appears easier for people who bond socially in a shared effort to shed pounds. "It may be quite difficult to lose weight by one's self and it may be much easier to lose it as part of a group or network," said Dr. Richard Suzman, director of the Behavioral and Social Science Program at the NIA.

The research confirmed that physical inactivity and eating too many high-calorie foods contribute heavily to the obesity epidemic. The study sheds new light, though, on the role played by obese persons' social life. "A hierarchy of influence exists among family and friends on developing obesity, in which the attitudes, behaviors, and acceptance of obesity also might play an important role," explained Bill Schmalfeldt of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Suzman said that other research shows that people's social lives affects their overall physical wellbeing and even how long they live. "There are other data that show that friends and social relationships have a substantial impact on people's health and, indeed, longevity," he said. "So, keep all the friends you have, and make more."

Meanwhile, obesity continues plaguing more than 65 percent of adults in the United States, according to the NIH. Home health care providers play a crucial role in supporting many of these patients. Here are some things to keep in mind as you reach out to bariatric clients.

*Be sensitive to bariatric clients by maintaining dignity and avoiding clinical terms such as "morbid obesity."

*Work with home health agencies and bariatric and primary-care physicians to establish a reputation as your community's bariatric specialist.

*Host educational workshops covering bariatric issues. Leading bariatric-product makers can help by providing literature, product samples and even speakers.

*Don't hide bariatric products. By giving them premium space, you help raise awareness among referral sources and end users.

*Offer home assessments. By examining bariatric clients' activities of daily living, accessibility and mobility, you can recommend products that could boost their quality of life.

*Feature displays about bariatric bathroom safety. Most standard fixtures support up to about 250 lbs. More than that, and the risk of injury goes up. Your displays can educate clients about bathroom dangers and suggest solutions that include elevated toilet seats, bariatric commodes, transfer benches and shower chairs. Don't forget grab bars by the sink and shower.

*Help bariatric clients get moving again. After bariatric surgery, they may need canes, walkers and rollators to get them back on their feet. Be sure referrals and the larger community know you carry these products.

*Is sleep apnea a problem? Bariatric clients face an elevated risk of sleep apnea, so be prepared to make referrals to local sleep labs and offer CPAPs, nebulizers and oxygen products to sleep apnea sufferers and others with respiratory problems.

*Personal hygiene can be an issue for bariatric clients. Bathing can lead to falls, so some avoid it; others simply can't fit in standard-size tubs. So, these clients are open to hygiene products.

*Bariatric baby boomers are like other boomers: they like choice. So, offer multiple versions of bariatric products.

*Remember that a lot of bariatric products are not exclusively bariatric products. Bariatric clients often live with hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, pressure sores, sleep disorders and more. So, talk to your clients and use displays and educational materials to ensure they know about the full range of your offerings.

*Keep plenty of inventory of fast-moving items your clients may need immediately. Canes, grab bars, and walkers are just three products clients may need the moment they leave the hospital. These may bring clients or their caregivers into your store, so make sure they leave knowing you're the bariatric-care authority.

This article originally appeared in the July 2007 issue of HME Business.

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