The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially labeled obesity a disease, inadvertently causing a furious debate over one question, “Is obesity the result of purely external factors or is it simply a failure of self-governance?”
The Facebook pundits have already weighed in on the story. Friends and others in my network have quipped, “Can we immunized for obesity now?!” “I think this is just an excuse for an unhealthy lifestyle!” “This is bull. Choice is not a disease.” “So…everyone 35 lbs. over their ideal weight will get government assistance to lose weight.” And my favorite, “Does that make a cheeseburger a ‘controlled substance?'”
But I guess that’s Facebook for you. It’s a rush to be pithy without all the facts. Come to think of it, they probably learned that by watching 24-hour news networks. BOOM! That’s my journalism zinger for the day. Thank you, thank you….
I’m sure it’s going to get noisy out there, but when all the armchair scientists, pundits and talking heads have exhausted their bombast, what is all of this going to mean?
In the end, I think it’ll be good and bad. Let me explain…bad news first, I guess.
My fear, and the fear that many doctors have shared online, is that the medical community will focus on drugs and surgery to TREAT this disease instead of focusing on PREVENTION by teaching patients sound nutritional principles based on the most current research.
Let me say from the outset, however, that I don’t believe that the obesity epidemic is simply collective lack of willpower from the people of the world. I think there’s much more to it than that.
Many people would assume that obesity just affects more affluent nations like ours, and among those nations, affects the middle to higher income families, due to their financial ability to access food. However, the trend is almost the opposite. Even poor countries are suffering higher obesity rates than ever before, and in the U.S., the highest rate of obesity falls upon the poor. Mississippi suffers from the highest obesity rate in the U.S. and also happens to be the state with the highest concentration of people living below the poverty line. (See an infographic here.)
I won’t get into all the different theories about why this exists (and there are SEVERAL), but I will tell you what I believe. Weren’t you JUST DYING to know?
I think obesity is rampant among the poor because of the QUALITY of the food they are able to access. Poorer families (I’ve learned from personal experience) rely on low-cost, quick-fix and often fast food to get them through each month. What they might NOT know is that this processed food is the WORST food for them, and even smaller amounts of it can cause larger problems down the line. Or as Jonathan CK Wells, professor of child nutrition as University College London says, “all calories are not created equal.”
In his article for Aeon Magazine entitled, “The Obesity Era,” David Berreby, citing Professor Wells, reports, “The problem with diets that are heavy in meat, fat or sugar is not solely that they pack a lot of calories into food; it is that they alter the biochemistry of fat storage and fat expenditure, tilting the body’s system in favour of fat storage.”
So, not only are lower income families eating food that’s bad for them now, but they’re also eating food that could possibly alter their body chemistry towards obesity in the long term. It’s honestly scary when you think about it. (See this list of foods we eat in the U.S. which are banned in other countries)
In light of this, what are the obese to do? What are we to do? Wells suggests a global shift in our economy to allow the poorer families of the world access to BETTER food. I can’t imagine the clout necessary to bring this seemingly impossible change to fruition, but I would love to see this happen all over the world. However, learning the benefits of plant-based, whole foods nutrition, learning to garden and the like could make some small strides along the way.
Or maybe I’m a hopeless idealist who will know nothing but crushing disappointment. Leave me alone. I can still believe in Santa Claus if I want.
There is, however, some good news to be had here, I think.
Now that obesity is a DISEASE, I honestly think the medical research community will put it more squarely in their crosshairs. I think obesity’s epidemic-level status has started that ball rolling, but elevating it to a disease will push it over the hill.
I hope this research FINALLY indicts our modern food industry, the harmful chemicals it increasingly relies upon and the absolutely insane standard American diet being pushed out to people. I mean, have you SEEN MyPyramid? Does it make ANY sense to you?
In the end, I honestly have no idea what this will mean for us, but I do know that obesity is the “gateway drug” leading to heart disease, stroke, gastrointestinal issues and cancer…just to name a few. If we EVER want to get insurance and healthcare costs under control, we must tackle this problem. It’s crushing our country in so many ways, and I hope this designation will give it the attention it deserves.
If you’d like to read more about this, here are a few articles that offer more information: