Thursday, June 20, 2013

American Medical Association Declares Obesity A Disease - Is This Good Or Bad?

One third of Americans are obese.

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Obesity Declared a Disease
When I first heard that the AMA decided to classify obesity as a disease, my first reaction was, "really?" Many feel that obesity is self inflicted and can be prevented and cured by diet and exercise. But doesn't that really describe almost every disease? Heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and countless other ailments can be prevented by a healthy diet and lifestyle. I personally don't believe that diseases are caused by our "bad genes". In fact, most diseases are caused by the "unhealthy recipes" passed down from generation to generation. (I will show you how to fight "bad genes" with "delicious and healthy vegan recipes" in my new e-book, Health Begins in the Kitchen, available in July.)

My natural suspicion that most actions taken by the AMA are self serving made me immediately focus on the benefits doctors and pharmaceutical companies would now receive. But the most important thing we should consider about this "declaration" is how it will affect the one third of Americans that are obese and are suffering from the many health issues associated with it. 

The Good
Here are the things I would love to see happen as a result of this declaration:

Making obesity a disease removes some of the stigma of talking about weight. It is a lot more comfortable for the doctor and the patient to discuss a "disease" rather than someone's  weight, poor eating habits or sedentary behavior.

Doctors should now be reimbursed for the time they take to discuss nutrition and exercise with their obese patients. Given that this is not the specialty of most doctors, they should now be able to refer these patients to nutritionists and exercise coaches. This should be covered by insurance.

Some people overeat and become obese for psychological reasons. It would be great if obese patients can now seek therapy to deal with these deep-rooted issues and be given better tools to address these problems. This too should be covered by insurance.

And wouldn't it be nice if policy makers would be more encouraged to make changes that would help prevent this health issue. They did it with smoking after the U.S. Surgeon General informed us that smoking caused disease. Tobacco was more heavily taxed and marketing was restricted. As a result, the percentage of people who smoke has been cut in half since the 1960's. With obesity now a disease, perhaps the government will be more likely to subsidize fruits and vegetables, rather than corn, meat and dairy. Or prohibit the marketing of sugary foods to children. I can dream, can't I?

If all of these things happen and obesity rates drop significantly, so will the rate of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, joint issues, some cancers, and a myriad of other weight-related diseases. For those of you who watch The Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, you'll notice that the people on the show end up tossing most or all of their medications after losing significant weight and getting in shape. 

The Bad
Unfortunately there are some bad things that could come from this "declaration". 

Some fear that obese people might just think they were stricken with a disease and feel powerless to control it. Or worse, they may expect the doctor to prescribe a pill to cure or control their illness.

I also fear that it may promote lap band surgery, a procedure that involves placing a plastic band around the upper part of the stomach to make it smaller. This limits the amount of food a person can eat and also reduces their appetite. Eating a healthy, plant-rich diet involves eating high-fiber salads, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and foods that take lots of space in your stomach. There is no need for deprivation! Putting a band around your stomach robs you from enjoying a big, healthy meal. It's absolutely the LAST thing anyone should do. I wish Governor Christy (the new poster child for lap band surgery) came to visit me for a few weeks so that I could have shown him how to enjoy food and lose weight at the same time. People who take the surgical route avoid having to learn about nutrition. 

We Can Only Hope
The declaration making obesity a disease could possibly lead to the education of both the patient and the doctor about how a plant-rich diet can help cure obesity without deprivation or surgery. Somehow, with the AMA leading the charge, I fear that it may lead to more drugs and surgeries. We can only hope for the best.


Unknown said...

Joanne, I love the way you delve into leave no rock unturned! It's a good discussion. I'm curious about the metaphysical implications of weight loss. So much of what plagues us is in our heads and neuro-channels. If we could change our minds about food, we could probably change our bodies and our health. Interestingly, when I deliver food for the Ceres project, some folks are quite taken back by the "earthiness" of the food. Yet, many find their way back to health by eating well. Let's see what happens...can't wait for your book. Linda

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

That's an interesting point, Linda. And so many of those neuro-channels, thoughts and feelings about food are created during our childhood which make them difficult (but certainly not impossible) to change.