This week the American Medical Association officially classified obesity as a disease.
It is a disease that more than 90 million Americans are afflicted with, including 12 million children. Another 90 million are overweight and at risk of becoming obese. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 313.9 million people living in the United States. You do the math.
Obesity is a serious, complicated yet common problem. What is simple is that obesity is a killer. It spawns and exacerbates a host of additional illnesses including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify as “causes of preventable death.”
That’s a pretty clear message.
Yet, some how the majority of us doesn’t seem to be getting it. Maybe it is because so few think it applies to them. We have a collective case of denial.
According to university studies, almost half of obese adults reported they have never been told by a doctor that they should lose weight. Wait, what?
A quick survey of my own friends, coworkers and family members revealed about half had never had a discussion with their doctor about a healthy weight either.
Talk to a doctor about the issue and many will tell you, their patients simply don’t want to hear it. Patients are more likely to get offended and find a new doctor than take the message to heart. It is especially true, I am told, when it comes to childhood obesity.
Weight is certainly something I talk to my doctor about, and he’s always told me the same thing. “If you are worried, put down the fork and get moving.”
Under the new AMA guidelines a lot more people will be having that same chat. The idea is to make tackling obesity a professional obligation for doctors and force insurance companies to recognize it and pay for the treatment of it too. But people will still have to do the hard work. Contrary to popular belief, the answer isn’t in a pill.
Lifestyle changes are not easy. It is much easier to pack on the pounds than shave them off.
The five weeks I spent in France gave me a new appreciation of French cheese and pastries. It also added 10 pounds to my 5’6” frame and pushed my BMI just over the line into overweight territory.
My physician very politely pointed that out. I didn’t have to shed much, he said, but those 10 lbs had to go.
The truth is, it wasn’t about just those 10 pounds. Over the last 10 years, I had steadily gained weight — 30 pounds of weight! Of course I had noticed, but I just bought new clothes and then beat myself up about how I looked. In the span of ten years, I'd grown four pant sizes.
Then I really thought about what that meant. If I continue at that pace, by the time I’m 50, I’ll be 90 pounds overweight. In fact, I’d be officially obese within in the next five years if I did nothing.
It was time to start losing it, but I know that is not enough. To keep the weight away for good, I know I have to permanently change my lifestyle.
I have just enough life experience to know that problems get exponentially worse the longer you put off solving them and that a temporary fix is just that. It’s better and cheaper to do it right the first time.
That still doesn’t make it any easier, but there is comfort in commonality. Everyone with a human body faces the same challenge of maintaining and caring for that body.
With the AMA’s decision this week, maybe we finally get past talking about it and get to doing something about it.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653 or by firstname.lastname@example.org.