ObesityHelp Celebrates 25 Years of Education, Empowerment, Support, and Inspiration!January 30, 2023
ObesityHelp Celebrates 25 Years of Memories
Where did the time go? Twenty-five years ago, (in 1998!) somewhere in Southern, California ObesityHelp Founder, Eric Klein, was sitting behind a computer screen and thinking of ways in which he could help individuals who were seeking support in their struggles with obesity and related comorbidities. Previously, he had worked as a policy analyst and was very active with health policy, volunteered as an emergency medical technician (EMT), had been a pre-med student, and earned a degree in mechanical engineering at UCLA. As part of that program, he led a team that designed and built a prototype for a robotic wheelchair that quadriplegics could control via electrodes on their scalp. He was actively involved in medical research, authored many articles, and had just left a company working in healthcare marketing where he learned about bariatric surgery and discovered a profound need for a central resource to help educate, empower, support and inspire all individuals affected by obesity, along with their families, friends, employers, surgeons and physicians. He wanted to provide an interactive resource for ways to help fight discrimination against obesity, information on the treatment of obesity, and at the same time, a foundation for support and companionship with peers with similar experiences. So he started building a website and created the Association for Morbid Obesity Support (AMOS), now known as ObesityHelp.com.
“I founded ObesityHelp.com and the Association for Morbid Obesity Support in 1998 in order to help reach the 5 million plus people (there are this many in just the United States alone!) who suffer from morbid obesity.”-Eric Klein, Founder (2001)
Somewhere out there across the internet wires there was a bariatric nurse, Jeannie “JC” Colter, who equally cared about helping others find solutions to the disease of obesity. She lived out in the country in Maine, had been a military wife since the age of twenty, and worked in nursing homes as she raised her four children. She had a calling to help others all of her life but dreamed of becoming a Registered Nurse. So, at the age of 52, she did just that and soon after became a charge nurse working on the A3 ward at Maine General, where she would come to cross paths with a bariatric surgeon, Dr. Aslam. She was fascinated by what she was learning about bariatrics and soon went to work with him. The minute she discovered the internet, she was on a mission to help her patients. So in 1999, she researched ways she could become a better bariatric nurse. She was putting together a much needed newsletter for her patients and stumbled upon Eric’s website at the very beginning of its launch. She emailed Eric with her thoughts and ideas about his website and he replied, asking her to join his mission and build upon his vision, and soon they were working together seven days a week. They were on a mission to help, to make a difference!
Eric and JC volunteered countless hours a week building upon their now shared vision, answering emails, helping connect prospective patients with surgeons, and building ObesityHelp.com, which would later become an interactive social media platform that at first, they never dreamed of. Eric had no formal training with computer programming and was teaching himself along the way, creating new website features, and JC was providing her ideas, nursing experience, and connecting with bariatric surgeons across the country and with individuals seeking help and support. Before they knew it, their membership of 500 (which they were so excited about) began to steadily grow and soon ObesityHelp.com was welcoming 500 plus memberships a day!
Fast Fact: ObesityHelp was founded in 1998, Facebook founded in 2004, Twitter was founded in 2006, and Instagram was founded in 2010!
Making the Journey Together
Long before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms were founded, ObesityHelp.com became a social media destination with member and professional profiles, avatars, before and after photos, blogs, chat rooms, support groups, and message boards. Countless people from across the world were able to come together to Learn, Share, and Connect. ObesityHelp along with leading Surgeons, Dietitians, Physician Assistants, Psychologists, and many other healthcare professionals, hosted LIVE Q & A sessions creating a close connection between the healthcare providers helping to save and change lives, and the very people who needed their help the most. These professionals volunteered their time because they cared, they wanted to help educate and support others, not just in their own cities, but across the world. They helped to shape the futures of many individuals whom they would surely never meet in person. Or would they? Throughout the years, it would turn out that many ObesityHelp members would become patients of the surgeons and professionals they trusted and would often travel across the country to be in their care and to undergo the recommended surgery and treatments.
As ObesityHelp continued to reach more and more individuals across the globe, something amazing happened. Members of the website wanted to help and to give back and offered to volunteer their time, expertise, and to share with others what they had learned along the way. Volunteers moderated the message boards, chat rooms, forums, answered questions, helped with profiles and posting photos, answering phone calls and helped to connect prospective patients with surgeons, centers, and professionals that could help. They helped to write letters of medical necessity and to verify insurance coverages. These unwavering volunteers posted about their personal journeys and reached out to support and inspire new members and visitors. Some of them pre-ops, some post-ops, and some who sought other solutions to their struggles with obesity. They all came together to help and to support their peers. We are so grateful for the volunteers who have supported us all of these years!
ObesityHelp Launches OH Magazine and Bariatrics Today Magazine
In 2003, ObesityHelp published the first ever magazine dedicated to the fight against obesity. OH Magazine was focused on providing content written by nationally-recognized healthcare professionals for all individuals struggling with obesity and related health issues. The magazine was distributed in bariatric clinics, centers and hospitals across the United States and was also subscriber based. Countless authors shared their expertise and their personal journeys and helped to inspire so many. OH Magazine was in print for 10 years before moving to a free digital platform, as so many other magazines did at the time.
Soon after the launch of OH Magazine, ObesityHelp’s Bariatrics Today Magazine's first issue was published. This magazine was written by Bariatric experts, innovators, and thought leaders and a publication that provided a platform for leading industry professionals to connect and share the very latest in bariatrics and beyond. Both magazines provided a way to connect beyond the internet wires and were a valuable resource. You can now read that valuable content on ObesityHelp.com here. We continue to be so thankful to the authors who dedicate their time and share their expertise with our ObesityHelp members and visitors.
The OH Team Hosts the First ObesityHelp National Conference
Who ever heard of hosting conferences dedicated to the education, support, and treatment of obesity for individuals seeking answers and solutions? The ObesityHelp team did! In 2004, ObesityHelp hit the road and hosted our first ever National Conference in Dallas, Texas, allowing for bariatric professionals and ObesityHelp members to meet face-to-face after years of connecting through online chats and message board posts. This conference would pave the way for an unprecedented program of conferences and workshops that still continues in 2023.
To date, we have hosted 72 conferences, both national and regional, across the country, including CA, NV, TX, GA, FL, NY, PA, NC, WA, LA, MN, OH, IL, and AZ, just to name a few. Our conferences give pre-ops, post-ops, and individuals seeking help for obesity the opportunity to listen and learn from motivational speakers, bariatric and plastic surgeons, leading medical experts, professionals and their peers who have made the journey before them. And there is a lot of fun to be had too; Fashion shows, photo booths, costume parties, meet and greets, clothing exchanges…the list goes on! Our conferences have created lifetime friendships and professional connections. How great is that?
ObesityHelp Conferences are attended by more individuals, professionals, and vendors than any other patient-focused conference dedicated to the fight against obesity. Over the years, our conferences have grown immensely from 150 attendees to as many as 750! We are so grateful to our second to none, amazing volunteers each year. Speakers, ObesityHelp members, even some of our family members…THANK YOU ALL! They step up and help at every corner of our conferences and never ask for anything in return. We couldn't do it without you all!
And we are so lucky to have the best vendors ever each and every year! They are dedicated to supporting the bariatric and weight loss community. They educate us about their products, provide free samples, gift bags and prizes, and join in on the fun too. They even pose for pictures with attendees and ObesityHelp staff. Always with a smile and a heart to help support others. THANK YOU SO MUCH!
It’s a Celebration! 25 Years of Making the Journey Together!
So here we are in 2023! So much has happened throughout the years. ObesityHelp.com grew in leaps and bounds. We continue to this day to connect individuals to the surgeons and centers that can help them. We now have over 850,000 members! The support of the bariatric and plastic surgery community has been priceless. And so many pounds lost amongst us all, new adventures throughout the years, and goals met.
We have grieved the passing of several staff members, including JC. We have grieved the loss of some of our ObesityHelp friends and family members, and the loss of some of the professionals we have thought of as family and who made a great difference in the fight against the disease of obesity. We will miss them always.
We also remember and celebrate the friendships, relationships, and even marriages founded here on ObesityHelp.com. And we reflect on so many lives saved and forever changed because of the support and advocacy we have received and given to others.
Yes, 2023 marks our silver anniversary. We are so excited to be celebrating 25 years with you all! No matter where you are on your journey, or how long you have been here on ObesityHelp.com, we are happy that you are here. As we reflect on all of the years, we have so much to be thankful and grateful for. YOU make a difference each and every day. Never forget that!
We hope to see you at our #OH2023 ObesityHelp National Conference as we not only celebrate 25 years of Making the Journey Together; we celebrate YOU wherever you may be on your journey to living a healthier life!
Tammy J. Colter is an OH staff writer and has proudly served the ObesityHelp community since 1999, helping members and professionals alike. Tammy wears many hats at ObesityHelp, she works as an author, editor, and account manager. Read more articles by Tammy!