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Fitness perspective: AMA decision to classify obesity as a disease

By John Yohman | In Education | on July 26, 2013

The American Medical Association’s announced that obesity is a disease.
How will this affect us and our industry as fitness professionals.
Hmmmm.  I have very mixed feelings about this.

Personally, I think that it’s a human-induced disease that we’ve essentially created with mindlessness and carelessness. It’s definition is a disorder of structure or function in a human, animal, or plant. And it’s my experience that – it sure is this!!

I’m not discounting eating disorders, emotional conditions, abusive histories, messed-up parenting, etc.  These are factors that contribute to the issue. I’m most concerned with the step up in the big pharmaceutical companies to produce drugs that are ineffective and improper in treating obesity. Calling obesity a “disease” just opens the doors to create all kinds of “cures” – none of them addressing the real issues. It would only prolong  and in essence give those who already struggle with their food and lifestyle choice an excuse to give up and/or backslide into obesity.

Labeling obesity as a disease also ignores the almost taboo subject of personal responsibility. Describing obesity as purely a disease overlooks the complex role of a person’s psychological profile and attitudes. A study led by Angela Sutin of the National Institutes of Health highlighted that the most disciplined consumers had lower rates of obesity while larger weight gains were linked to personality factors such as impulsiveness, low conscientiousness, and a willingness to take risks. The authors concluded that any obesity solution must address these psychological factors, which general practitioners cannot.

Research conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute further highlights the differences in obesity rates across consumer segments. NMI data shows that two consumer segments comprising 52% of adults exhibit the highest obesity rates. More importantly, NMI found that people in these segments either don’t care about what they eat or believe that supplements or medicines will cure any weight problem, rather than watching what they eat. To top it off, these consumers were the least likely to exercise. Declaring obesity a disease absolves many who practice deliberate eating and lifestyle behaviors that contribute to obesity.

I have witnessed first-hand the struggles one goes through to take control of their life through better eating habits and exercise. We need to celebrate those individuals that are tackling their obesity head-on and hope that more will be inspired to follow without using the “disease” as a crutch.

On the other hand,  declaring obesity a “disease” might make more people wake up to the seriousness of living this unhealthy lifestyle.

It’s not just about fitting into airplane seats and restaurant booths. Obesity has been linked to several serious medical conditions, including:
Heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis, gout, sleep apnea and asthma. As if this isn’t enough to scare you into going to the gym or getting up off the couch.

We will see how this all turns out, but I am hopeful that those who have been on the fence about getting themselves back into shape will have the extra motivation to ‘get well’.

To read another interesting article and perspective on this topic, read this post from Forbes magazine by Hank Cardello, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a consultant on socially responsible products and practices, and the author of Stuffed: An Insider’s Look at Who’s (Really) Making America Fat.

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