A few weeks ago, the American Medical Association voted to declare obesity a disease.
…members of the AMA’s House of Delegates rejected cautionary advice from their own experts and extended the new status to a condition that affects more than one-third of adults and 17% of children in the United States.
Why, I wondered, would the esteemed AMA reject cautionary advice from their own experts about declaring obesity a disease?
There may be several reasons, and sadly, not one of them get to the crux of the matter.
With so many people qualifying as “obese,” there’s money to be made with this classification. If you have a disease, you need to be treated.
As is, the diet industry is already making money hand over fist, with few success stories The lack of success stories is due to the fact diets don’t work. Long-term, meaningful changes MAY work. But cutting caloric intake, reaching a goal weight, and then resuming normal eating habits is a recipe for failure in keeping weight off.
Instead, the US spends over 60 BILLION dollars a year on dieting.
The lack of success stories is telling: it’s our culture. It’s the priorities. It’s the fact that it’s a lot cheaper for most families to buy processed foods than it is for them to buy fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, etc.
But that the AMA ignored the advice of experts and declared obesity is darker and more sinister. It’s about the money for Big Pharma. After all, now that obesity is an illness, pharmaceutical companies can start making more medicines to “treat” the new “illness.”
- A fit fat person is usually healthier than a sedentary thin person.
- Obese people (BMI of 30 to 34.9) have no greater risk of early death than those of “normal” body size (BMI 18.5 to 24.9). Most people who fit the clinical definition of obese are in the smaller categories.
- “Normal-weight” people who think they’re fat have a lower quality of life. Why?
It distracts from the real issues:
- Weight discrimination in healthcare prevents proper diagnoses
- Health practitioners already are too likely to diagnose on body size instead of symptoms and facts
- Exercise improves health, but it often doesn’t cause weight loss. If your goal is weight loss, it’s easy to get discouraged and quit exercising.
- Fat bias prevents fat people from getting jobs, from getting raises, and from getting proper healthcare treatment. Society’s response? ”Prevent obesity!”
It’s a win for the weight cycling industry:
- Diet programs benefit from the (short-term, usually temporary) success of diets. Most people diet to lose weight and then regain. A significant subset then go on a new diet, regain, try another new diet, and so on. Someone may do Weight Watchers, then NutriSystem, then Jenny Craig, then Weight Watchers again. Who’s making money in this situation?
- When lost weight is regained, the dieter is blamed – not the diet.
- New York Times reporter Gina Kolata wrote in Ultimate Fitness: The Quest for Truth about Health and Exercise that news agencies receive hundreds of press releases a week from diet programs, authors, and researchers. Most have something to sell. Weight loss is a terrific product to sell, because it’s so often temporary.
- Ever notice how weight loss ads extolling how someone lost 40 or 50 or 60lbs will include a note “Results not typical”? There’s a reason for that.
Unfortunately, what’s good for the weight cycling industry isn’t necessarily good for patients:
This new categorization has an interesting “benefit”–the ACA (aka “Obamacare”) will cover treatments for obesity.
But even that’s a very questionable “benefit.” This still seems, once again, to be all about the money.
If we, as a society, wanted to address obesity, we’d quench the many food deserts within our country. We’d make fresher, healthier foods cheaper. It still costs more to buy bananas, broccoli, or apples than it does to buy a box of Mac n’ Cheese. We would stop blaming people for being obese and realize that there are many reasons why some people are heavier than others.
We also wouldn’t equate thin with good health. This is one of the most harmful lies we tell ourselves, at least in my opinion.
But hey, it’s all about the Benjamin’s (or Franklin’s, thanks DH!) in the end, right?