By Ashley Watson
You’ve probably noticed that in the last few days, health newsfeeds have been clogged with dozens of articles about the American Medical Association’s decision to recognize obesity as a disease. This decision has sparked a heated debate and received criticism from several health organizations; however, supporters of the A.M.A.’s decision say that this could change how doctors treat obesity and provide the public with more education about obesity and weight loss.
At DaVinci® Laboratories, we’re interested in how doctors and patients will react to this news and how the A.M.A. and other organizations plan to create more awareness about the epidemic of obesity in this country. We invite you to join the discussion as you encourage patients to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.
The Obesity Debate
The debate over the A.M.A.’s recent decision is not a new one.“Whether obesity should be called a disease has long been debated. The Obesity Society officially issued its support for classifying obesity as a disease in 2008,” reports Andrew Pollack in The New York Times. Pollack adds that the Council on Science and Public Health studied this issue during the year leading up to the A.M.A.’s decision. The council had advised against classifying obesity as a disease because “the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index, is simplistic and flawed” (Pollack, The New York Times).
So what is considered an unhealthy body mass index (BMI)? According to the online body mass calculator provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH), someone with a BMI of 30 and above is considered obese. However, the NIH also reflects CSAPH’s warnings about using BMI to define obesity. The limitations include overestimating body fat in athletes with more muscle, or underestimating body fat in people who have less muscle mass.
In addition to these limitations, the location of the fat on the body also plays a role in one’s risk for disease. The NIH reports that fat around the waist or hips increases the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. There are other risk factors for heart disease and related conditions, including exercise habits, alcohol consumption, smoking, etc.
While these considerations may complicate the obesity debate, there are still many supporters. The Obesity Society (TOS) is probably the biggest supporter of the A.M.A.’s recent decision. TOS has even launched the “Treat Obesity Seriously” campaign and created a website specifically for the campaign. Regardless of which side medical professionals take on this issue, the A.M.A.’s decision has created more awareness, which could affect how obesity is viewed and treated.
Because of the limitations of defining obesity, some critics fear that doctors may treat patients with unnecessary medication or surgery instead of promoting lifestyle changes. On the other side of the coin, patients who have been unsuccessful at losing weight without medication or surgery may benefit from additional research on the disease and new medications with fewer adverse side effects than the weight loss meds used in the past.
Removing the social stigma attached to obesity is another benefit of defining it as a disease, and this may even give patients the emotional support needed to make lifestyle changes. Even if a patient uses medication or other less traditional methods for losing weight, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is an important part of keeping the weight off and reducing the risk of obesity related diseases.
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