Weighty Matters

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Obesity a Disease?

on June 23, 2013

In today’s paper I read an article that said the American Medical Association declared obesity an illness.  Some obesity experts said this is long overdue.  Others, called in this article fat activists, denounced the move and are demanding that the AMA reverse the decision.

Here are a couple of quotes from both sides:

It adds legitimacy to the problem, will help raise public awareness, and will get doctors engaged in treating the condition.” – Dr. Steve Smith, president-elect of The Obesity Society and scientific director for the Florida Hospital-Sanford Burnham Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes.  (How’d you like to put all that on a business card?)

“It puts obesity on the same path as treatments for addictions to alcohol or tobacco, and mental health problems, such as depression.” — Joe Nadglowski, president of the Obesity Action Coalition.

We don’t see ourselves as diseased. … To label a whole segment of society as diseased without any knowledge of their health is unacceptable.  It directly fuels discrimination.” — Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance

“I’m appalled that the AMA chose to ignore science.” – Linda Bacon, nutritionist at University of California at Davis and author of Heath at Every Size.  The article further says that she notes that the definition of obesity (based on weight and height ration on the BMI chart)defines size not health.

I’ve been thinking about this article a lot today.  I believe I come down mostly on the side of the AMA.  Sort of.  I believe that compulsive overeating and binge-eating are diseases but that obesity is the symptom or the result.  I remember the first time I heard the idea that I had a disease.  It was a blessing.  Learning that, and then learning to internalize it so that I truly believed, helped release the shame that I’d carried all of my life.  It sowed the seeds for growing self-esteem and began to choke back the weeds of self-loathing and disgust.

I have to wonder if my insurance company’s policy on weight loss surgery would have been different if obesity had been declared a disease earlier.  Some insurance companies cover bariatric procedures, or cover some of them.  Mine didn’t.  Fortunately, I could access funds to pay for it out of pocket and that, along with other things, added up to a sizeable tax refund this year, TYVM.

Even after several readings, I’m not sure if I have enough information to fully grasp the entire viewpoint of the fat activists.  I really can’t wrap my brain around the position that labeling obesity as a disease fuels discrimination.  If anything, I think there’s the glimmer of hope that it could reduce the stigma.

Then again, maybe not.  Honestly, if someone’s going to make fat jokes or scorn someone who is overweight, I don’t think it matters to them in the least whether it’s a disease.  If anything, I’m most interested in how the official declaration could be a catalyst for positive change.  I’m not sure about the one comment about legitimizing the problem.  Really now, does anyone in this day and age think that obesity isn’t a legitimate problem?

Is that the point the women who were interviewed for the article are trying to make?  That obesity isn’t necessarily a health problem?  I find that really hard to believe so I’m chalking it up to the thought that they undoubtedly said a lot more in the interviews than made it into the article.

I know that right now, I’m the healthiest that I’ve probably been in my entire adult life.  According to my BMI, I’m still obese.  However, with the cardio and strengthening workouts, I’m physically in pretty good shape.  Inherent in that “pretty good shape” is the additional, unwritten phrase, “for a woman my size”.  My eating habits are much healthier, too, and not only because I eat far less.  I make better choices with less fat, more fiber, less sugar, and quality proteins.

I’m leading my healthiest life at this size.  I think that’s a good goal.  However, I don’t think that it’s in my best interests, or the interests of my long term health, to remain this size.

In the end, it doesn’t matter all that much to me whether obesity is officially a disease.  Since I’ve long believed that my eating disorder was a disease that contributed to my becoming so overweight, someone else’s declaration doesn’t affect me either way.

So what do you think?  Where do you fall on this debate?  Let’s discuss.


2 responses to “Obesity a Disease?

  1. Skye says:

    I find it a somewhat confusing issue. I’ve read a lot of Betty Fokker’s posts about how “fat” does not automatically mean “unhealthy”. I know that a person can be slender and unhealthy. I think a lot of health has to do with what you are currently doing: having a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. I’m not getting much exercise. I’ve weighed as much as 196 lbs, which is much too much for me, but I’m not sure what “level” of overweight-ness that put me at and I have never known my BMI. So my opinion is that I don’t think that a blanket statement for all overweight people is good, but I do think that too many kids are overweight, and too many are downright obese, who don’t have a genetic predisposition toward just being large.

    How’s that for being wishy washy? 🙂

    • Mary Stella says:

      I don’t think that being fat automatically means unhealthy. There are degrees. I believe obesity, certainly morbid obesity, is unhealthy. I also don’t believe that everyone who is overweight has an eating disorder.

      You’re right. It’s very confusing. I’m still mulling.

      Skye, if you want to know your BMI there are free calculators on line that you can Google.

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