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Obesity was long considered a personal failing. Science shows it's not.

Part 1 of a six-part USA TODAY series examining America’s obesity epidemic.

Barbara Hiebel carries 137 pounds on her 5-foot-11 frame. Most of her life she weighed 200 pounds more.

For decades she tried every diet that came along. With each failure to lose the extra weight or keep it off, her shame magnified.

In 2009, Hiebel opted for gastric bypass surgery because she had "nothing left in the gas tank" to keep fighting. She quickly dropped 200 pounds and felt better than she had in ages.

Over the next eight years though, 70 pounds crept back, and the shame returned.

"I knew everything to do to lose weight. I could teach the classes," said Hiebel, 65, a retired marketing professional from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She asked to be identified by her first and maiden name because of the sensitivity and judgment surrounding obesity. "I'm not a stupid person. I just couldn't do it."

The vast majority of people find it almost impossible to lose substantial weight and keep it off.

Medicine no longer sees this as a personal failing. In recent years, faced with reams of scientific evidence, the medical community has begun to stop blaming patients for not losing excess pounds.

(Photo: Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford)


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