The 21st Century is still young, yet it has already been labeled as the century of chronic disease. The epidemic of obesity and diabetes will likely cause life expectancy to decline, and the Lancet recently reported that obesity causes more deaths than famine.
These developments are why the American Medical Association’s (AMA) new decision to classify obesity as a disease is essential. It means that we realize that education, while important, only goes so far. Like other diseases, obesity must be treated and prevented. Additionally, ways to prevent obesity are not likely to work as treatment.
Finding Solutions for Obesity
The AMA’s decision is an important beginning–one that may allow us to find real solutions to the epidemic and stop blaming the obese person. If we are a compassionate society that opposes discrimination, it is imperative that we eliminate bias based on body size.
The negative effects of obesity on health are well-documented, yet access to treatment remains limited. Many insurance policies have exclusions for obesity treatment.
There is no simple answer or quick fix. This will be a lengthy process, but it can be done. The inroads made against tobacco usage provide a road map of how we can change our product packaging, our advertising guidelines and our medical screening processes to be more effective.
For the severely obese, there are few lasting solutions. Surgery remains an effective treatment. And while these procedures can be a life-saving option for well- screened individuals, we cannot operate ourselves out of the obesity epidemic.
As a society, we need to find how to make it less likely that individuals will become obese. This starts by recognizing the early signs and intervening.
The AMA began the process, which allows primary care doctors to objectively analyze weight-related issues and suggest treatment without being perceived as being judgmental or condescending.
While the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease does not change any laws or authorize reimbursement for treatment, it makes efforts to deny care less appropriate and, I hope, will encourage the development of meaningful policies.