Obesity as a disease?

Here’s a link to NPR!


My grandparents’ cat is huge.

I don’t have medical training or  any concrete scientific knowledge to have an opinion on this one way or another. I just know what it’s like to be overweight and to have to struggle every single day to stop being that way. Some reasons are mental and emotional, some physical (insulin resistance sucks). All in all it ends the same thing.

Being overweight is a very public battle, whether we admit it or not.

I’m mostly just writing this because I’m really saddened by what people have had to say on the issue. I’m not commenting on whether or not it should be labeled a disease, just on the reactions to the news that I’ve seen.

Yes, it makes me feel bad when people say that fat people are just lazy and don’t care about what they do with their bodies. Unless you have personally been overweight and teased and harassed – even by your own family – then I don’t think you should be so quick to judge. Sometimes getting up in the morning is enough of a challenge. Maybe, if you’re like my father, you have a family to feed and two jobs to work on top of mounting debts and stresses. Having a rock hard bod isn’t exactly on the top of that list. Should it be? Good health should always be a goal, I’m not arguing with anyone on that. But is it a crime that life sometimes gets in the way?

One popular fitness blogger I followed said that she thinks it’s “ridiculous” that obesity is a disease and she doesn’t want people feeling like they are the victim and they can blame being obese on being a disease.

But on the flip-side, does that mean they can be shamed and blamed because they “allowed” themselves to get in such a condition? Is it so ridiculous? (Or ridic! as she puts it)

Maybe, maybe not, I don’t know. I do know that she has as much education as I do, a bachelor’s in a science field, but has probably never been overweight a day in her life. She is not a doctor, nurse, dietician, exercise physiologist, therapist, etc. Do I think labeling obesity as a disease is going to let obese people off the hook? Of course not. I don’t personally know any obese person who hasn’t felt shame at some point about it, or doesn’t realize their health is at risk. Do I think people are going to cry victim? Again, I don’t know, but I do know there will be people who will forever be victims in their own mind, whether they’re obese or not, it’s a mindset.

To say obese people are so lazy and just lack the willpower to change so they’ll find any way to shift blame is ridiculous and incredibly hurtful. Being obese is not healthy, but many thin people also make poor decisions about their diet or exercise. And it is not as though it is extremely easy to overhaul your lifestyle, and the current culture of shame and harassment does nothing to help, but rather make overweight people retreat further. It’s very emotional to be fat, it’s not as easy as “get off your ass and stop eating burgers”.

Do you know what it’s like to not feel like you deserve to enjoy your life, go out and do things because people will judge your weight? To fear that your weight will negatively impact a job or school interview, or that if you go shopping you won’t be able to find clothes that fit and you actually like. If you’ve never struggled with your weight, then no, probably not.

Yes, many of these things are not realistic. No, I don’t think anyone really cares what I eat or where I go, but to deny that sense of being self-conscious just because it isn’t logical isn’t fair. It’s my experience, and it’s the truth. Then there’s the “well if you’re so unhappy go lose weight!” argument. Yes, of course! We must all strive for the best health we can have, any way we can. I will never disagree with you on that. You should take responsibility for your health, whatever that means to you. Weight isn’t always going to be the best indicator of health.

But weight loss is a highly personal and multifaceted issue you can’t just tell someone to go lose weight. Some people genuinely do not know where to begin. Some people live in food-deserts or cannot afford fresh meats, fresh produce. Maybe they can’t get away from their jobs, maybe childcare or transportation is an issue. What seems like an easy, maybe even mundane task to you could be an immense challenge to someone else.

Yes, where there is a will there is a way. But have you ever been in a situation where you’ve come up against so many roadblocks that you lose the will to continue?

Instead of continuously blaming the individual why not try to address the reasons why so many are currently overweight? Write to congresspeople, go out and get involved with the ADA or other organizations who provide free education workshops to the public. Get involved in causes that demand better access to mental healthcare, or affordable produce and healthy food for our children.

There are things you can do to be more productive than type nasty comments on the internet about how all the obese people just lack the willpower to do something about it. Would it be so wrong to try to make doing something about it easier?

I don’t know if obesity is a disease in its own right or a symptom of other things such as thyroid conditions, depression, insulin resistance, or a myriad of other issues. But to be honest, I don’t really care. If the AMA says obesity is a disease now, then let’s treat it accordingly. I think it could have some positive impacts. Maybe the food industry will finally be forced to make the changes to their process and products to help our overweight population. Perhaps we’ll see less patient-blame and a new generation of doctors will learn to treat obesity as the grave health concern it is, not just a lack of motivation or a flaw in character. Maybe an obese patient who is looking for assistance will have better access to proper nutrition education from a registered dietician, help from a personal trainer, or at least something better than what they have now.

Some say that it’ll just lead to a rise in medications being pushed instead of weight loss “the natural way”. Another way to cop out of taking care of yourself. Here’s the thing, if you’ve been overweight your entire life maybe some assistance isn’t necessarily evil. It’s been shown that children who are overweight are likely remain that way through adulthood.

And I’m sure many will tell you themselves that the longer they were overweight the more difficult it is to maintain any amount of weight loss. So sure, if they can come up with something that (with proper nutrition and activity, like my Metformin) will help you achieve or maintain your optimal health, who the hell am I to demonize that?

My hope for the future is that this results in a net positive effect for our national health. Also, that people would just be a little nicer to one another. Get to know someone, encourage them, inspire them, be the support that they may desperately need. It doesn’t need to be us vs. them, fit vs. fat. It can be good health for everyone, with a let’s work together attitude.