Is obesity a disease? There’s already an ongoing debate surrounding this topic, but before you take a side, read about the different arguments stated below.
Is Obesity a Disease?: What You Should Know
Recently, the American Medical Association (AMA) classified obesity as a disease. This has sent ripples into our culture as the AMA has thrown the gauntlet and is forcing us to look at this issue.
We all know that being overweight and obese are huge medical problems and lead to many life-threatening diseases costing us a fortune in healthcare expenses. But, is obesity a disease per se?
Let’s look at some arguments on both sides of this debate.
Obesity Is a Disease
- The move by the AMA board means that one-third of adults and 17% of children in the U.S. have a medical condition that requires obesity treatment.
- It should encourage primary care physicians to get over their discomfort about raising weight concerns with obese patients.
- Studies have found that more than half of obese patients have never been told by a medical professional that they need to lose weight.
- The causes of obesity are complex because they include genetics, stress, food supply, medications, and many other factors. One could argue that self-discipline can’t cure obesity alone.
- The AMA, which voted for the change, concurs, saying they hope their decision will prompt greater communication between doctors and patients.
- If obesity is thought of as a disease, insurance companies will be more supportive of obese people, researchers will pursue the problem more aggressively, and public health efforts to curb obesity will be strengthened.
- Obesity is associated with a range of health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, coronary artery disease, sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome in women, and an increased risk for cancer.
- By classifying obesity as a disease, people are able to receive coverage from their insurance – then they are more likely to seek nutritional counseling.
- The direct cost of obesity is over $535 billion a year. If we raise awareness, we can potentially lower our health care spending for problems related to obesity.
Obesity Should Not Be a Disease
- Telling all obese people they have a disease could end up reducing their sense of control over their ability to change their diet and exercise or physical activity patterns. As experience with addictions has shown, giving people the sense that they suffer from a disease that is out of their control can become self-defeating.
- Since insurance will make adjustments to cover procedures that treat obesity, more people will opt for bariatric weight-loss surgery. Some of them probably won’t need to take that drastic of a route.
- Patients might use “disease” classification as a crutch.
- This becomes a lifestyle and societal problem for the vast majority of obese people. Look at the proliferation of chemicals, additives, and GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods the American public is subject to; other nations have GMO foods labeled as such by law.
- Why is America suffering from this “disease”?
- People who are impoverished generally don’t have access to or can’t afford properly balanced diets. They also may not have access to proper nutritional information either, and the food that is readily available to them tends to have a highly disproportionate amount of carbs.
- The changes we need are political and economic. We need safe neighborhoods with adequate opportunities for sport and exercise at all ages. We need good-quality physical education and high-quality food in all schools. People also need better availability of healthy foods, preferably with subsidies that make them at least as affordable as unhealthy foods. We need workplaces that actively encourage fitness and health, e.g., allowing mid-day health club breaks, organized walking, and, where applicable, healthier options in the cafeteria.
- Issues with the BMI (body mass index) calculator being too general and not accommodating individual characteristics. We need a better standard to diagnose patients.
What is bariatric surgery? This is a surgical procedure on the stomach to help with weight loss, especially for people who are obese. The surgery can either restrict the amount of food the stomach can hold or shorten a part of the small intestine to reduce the calories the body can absorb.
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Leading Obesity Causes
Because weight gain is one of the leading health problems worldwide, it’s also important to break down the major causes of obesity. This will help us better understand the root cause of this condition.
As mentioned previously, genetics play a crucial role in obese people. Obesity in children happens when their parents are obese and they are more likely to become overweight or obese themselves.
But, this does not mean obesity is predetermined. Only that genetic components significantly affect a person’s susceptibility to becoming obese or risk of obesity.
2. Highly Processed Foods
These types of foods, usually junk foods, are often made of refined ingredients with additives, so the products can last long on the shelf, be cheap, and have a good taste. Enhancing the flavor, for example, already contains ingredients that can contribute to weight gain, such as excessive salt.
These foods are also low in fiber, which can provide negative health effects. Individuals who eat high amounts of fiber have a healthier body mass index than those who consume low amounts.
Aside from that, the lack of fiber in the body over time can increase the possibility of hemorrhoids and colon cancer.
3. Addiction to Food
This major cause is related to the previous one — making people addicted to food. Weight gain happens fast when people frequently eat high-fat, sugar-sweetened junk foods primarily because of its good flavor.
Addiction to food can also occur when food availability near you is mostly junk foods or high-processed foods. People who are busy typically find it convenient to order highly processed meals from fast food chains.
This can lead to addiction as well because foods in these places have too much flavor which attracts customers. Naturally, people will have their own favorites and this makes them crave for more food.
Food addiction can make people lose control over their eating behavior, just like those who are addicted to alcohol or drugs.
4. Insulin Resistance
Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that lets the body use glucose for energy or store glucose for future use. The problem occurs when insulin resistance happens because the cells in the liver, muscles, and body fat tissue do not respond to insulin properly.
As this condition develops, your body’s response in fighting back insulin resistance is to release more insulin. The beta cells in the pancreas that work so hard to produce insulin may not be able to keep up with the demand over time.
This can lead you to develop type 2 diabetes if it keeps going. You may also suffer from a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that’s also linked to insulin resistance, which can raise your risk of heart disease and liver damage.
5. Some Medications
Some medications can also lead to obesity as a side effect. Antidepressants, for example, are associated with weight gain.
These drugs do not affect your willpower though. What they may do is increase your appetite or reduce metabolic rate.
6. Added Sugar
Added sugar in processed foods is a huge risk factor for people gaining weight and those with high blood sugar levels. It primarily alters the biochemistry and hormones of your body if you eat it excessively, resulting in weight gain.
Sugar is half fructose and half glucose, and excess fructose can lead to insulin resistance, which can lead to weight gain.
7. Physical Inactivity
Lack of physical activity is another cause of obesity. As more and more people find convenience in living a sedentary lifestyle, the benefits of exercise are thrown to the sideline.
Not only that, physical inactivity is considered to be an independent risk factor for cardiovascular risk and other chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and colon cancer.
Your Opinion Matters
The arguments mentioned above are just some main bullet points for each side of this debate. There are obviously many more as the issue is complex, personal, and heated.
This issue affects all of us, and it’s important to know it will take a concerted effort to resolve it. Attaching a diagnosis to a word doesn’t fix the problem.
If it did, complications like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer would be things of the past. It directs our attention to the issue, but the real question to you is how do we solve this?
Based on the two sides of the argument, is obesity a disease for you? Whether it is or not, obesity is still a health concern people should take seriously as it can lead to a chronic disease like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
If you’re concerned with your weight right now, it’s best to visit a nutritionist or a physician to guide you with your diet and weight loss journey.
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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on June 24, 2013, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.