Last Tuesday, June 18, 2013, the AMA House of Delegates voted to designate obesity as a disease. This went against the advice of their experts, the Council on Public Health. It begs the discussion on why they decided to go against the experts that work for them, but also if the argument has any merit.
Is obesity a disease?
Let me start by saying that this is MY opinion, and as most things that are written from that aspect, there are inborn biases associated.
As one that is currently designated obese, according to the BMI scale (the standard also voted on to use for classification … an issue all its own) I do not, in any way, think of my obesity as a disease. To me, it would be like making reading a disease because I wear glasses and it causes eye strain. It also removed any personal accountability for the state of the person’s health.
“Yes I had an Egg McMuffin for breakfast, a 5 Guys Burger and Fries for lunch, and Olive Garden endless pasta bowl for dinner, then a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream for dessert, but I am fat because I have a DISEASE.”
I’m not buying it …
But then again … cancer is a disease that is caused by smoking (in some cases). Liver disease can be caused by drinking too much alcohol. They are diseases you give to yourself, so why is obesity, caused by poor eating habits different?
As you can see, it is a complex issue.
Another issue, to me, is the classification method. They voted to use the BMI standard, which is chock full of problems, by their own admission. According to the BMI scale, a male who is 5’8 and 165 pounds is considered over weight. If he is 190 pounds he is obese. I am 5’10 and 240. I am obese. When I was 300 pounds I was morbidly obese. Zak Thomas, a linebacker for the Miami Dolphins in the 1990’s, was the same height and weight as I am now. He would be considered obese. How about most bodybuilders? Hell, what about Peter Dinklage? Are they all obese as well?
According to the AMA they are …
Dr. Patrick Harris stated in an LA Times article that “recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects 1 in 3 Americans”. I can buy this too. Most primary care physicians have an issue with addressing weight with their patients because of the fact it that there isn’t a “cure” (Dr. Rexford Ahima, University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism).
Really? No cure Doctor Ahima?
How about … oh I don’t know …
Learning to eat correctly and getting off the couch?
Dr. Daniel H. Bessesen, of the University of Colorado, continues this flawed logic as well in the same LA Times article, stating that “the semantic change may reflect a growing awareness that obesity is not someone’s fault”.
Of course there are examples of the tendency toward weight gain is genetic, but I have issue with blaming being overweight on this all the time. I would venture to guess that true genetic disposition toward obesity is still fixable through diet. There are many examples of people with overweight families yet they are not. How is this explained?
Let me also say that I was one of those people blaming genetics and disease (I had thyroid cancer) on my weight issue. It wasn’t until I stopped blaming these things and started looking at my own practices that I started losing weight. Obesity, to me, is a mental disease, so to treat the “disease” you have to rework your mind to thinking in the correct way. The problem with this is the myriad of information available with pseudo science bombarding us every day.
“Raspberry Ketones are the answer!”
“Chocolate Milk is the BEST recovery drink!!”
“Veganism is the best way to true health!!”
“No … PALEO is the way we should be eating!!”
“NO!!! Portion control and a point system is the best method!!”
I suspect that this has something to do with money. Big Pharma wants to develop and sell obesity drugs, but they can’t unless it’s a designated disease, so they put pressure on the AMA to classify it as such so they can start working on this, selling it at $100 a pill, which then insurance companies have to cover because it’s now part of the approved drug list. Will jenny Craig and Weight watchers now be subsidized by insurance? I am sure that makes them very happy. Doctors can now “prescribe” Weight Watchers and you can claim it as a medical expense.
The bottom line is to find what works for your body and stick with it. Read labels. If it’s processed it’s probably best to not consume it. Eat clean … eat real food … and you’ll more than likely be OK in the end.
And take responsibility for your own health and stop relying on pharmaceuticals to magically “cure” your “disease”.