Is obesity a disease?
Obesity is a disease because it impairs normal functioning
By Molly O’Dell
Obesity is a disease, and, unfortunately, obesity has become a global epidemic. Last month, the American Medical Association categorized obesity as a disease. One dictionary defines disease as a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs or symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is weight that is greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The term also identifies weight that has been shown to increase the likelihood of certain other health problems.
For adults, obesity can be determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index.” BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. Although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a high BMI without excess body fat. Other methods of estimating body fat and body fat distribution include measurements of skinfold thickness and waist circumference, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging.
To assess someone’s likelihood of developing obesity-related diseases, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute guidelines recommend looking at two other predictors: an individual’s waist circumference (abdominal fat is a predictor of risk for obesity-related diseases) and other risk factors the individual has for diseases and conditions associated with obesity like high blood pressure or physical inactivity.
A child’s weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults because children’s body composition varies as they age and varies between boys and girls. Obesity is defined as a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for children of the same age and sex.
Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body, and obese children are more likely to become obese adults with more severe obesity because obese children are more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Obese children have an increased risk of impaired glucose tolerance, insulin resistance and diabetes, breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma, as well as joint problems and musculoskeletal discomfort, and fatty liver disease, gallstones and gastro-esophageal reflux. Obese children and adolescents have a greater risk of social and psychological problems, such as discrimination and poor self-esteem, which can continue into adulthood.
Designating obesity as a disease is no cure. There is compelling evidence that the most effective way to curb this epidemic is through policy and to build environment changes in our communities to create the conditions for all of us to eat healthy and move more in our daily lives.
O’Dell is the director of the New River Health District, Virginia Department of Health.
We are each responsible for the image in the mirror
By Steve Siebold
The American Medical Association recently classified obesity as a disease, saying the new definition would help in the fight against Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The AMA got it wrong, and obesity should not be classified as a disease. When it comes to issues of weight, unless there is a true underlying medical condition, which isn’t the case most of the time, your weight is your responsibility. Classifying obesity as a disease does nothing but add to the psychological delusion that being fat isn’t our fault.
Americans love to play the blame game. People say they’re fat because of the food manufacturers, the restaurants, portion sizes and more. It’s everyone’s fault but our own.
Americans have been programmed to believe diets don’t work because of the inability of the average person to stick to them, and their unwillingness to take responsibility for their own failure.
Make no mistake: Many diets work very well and have been scientifically proven to do so. Because an individual lacks the mental toughness to stick to a diet doesn’t make the diet any less effective. People have a difficult time accepting their own behavior so they blame their diet. That’s no different than a college graduate begging for money on the street and then blaming the school for his failure to succeed.
The bottom line: We are all responsible for what we see in the mirror, and nobody forces us to eat the way we do or not engage in an active lifestyle. There’s nobody holding a gun to your head forcing you to eat the doughnuts and the cheeseburgers. It’s time for people to realize that nobody is going to save you from yourself; not the government, a doctor or any magic pill, lotion or potion. A caped hero isn’t going to come flying in singing, “Here I come to save the day.”
Doctors need to get with the program, too, and stop coddling their patients by telling them that their weight isn’t their fault. Doctors need to stop worrying about losing patients and need to be more honest by telling them the way it really is, that if you’re fat you’re just whistling past the graveyard. This isn’t a game, and it’s not about being nice; it’s about saving lives and waking people up.
It’s ludicrous to classify obesity as a disease when the solution is simple: Americans need to grow up emotionally and make the decision to get fit and healthy once and for all. You are the problem and you are the solution. It’s your choice.
Siebold is the author of “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People” and a mental toughness coach who has helped people lose weight.