With the holiday season in full swing and me doing my best to keep my LTG tribe in “Maintain, Don’t Gain” mode, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we gain weight and why it’s so important to constantly keep our weight (and health) in check.
This statistic comes to mind, a lot, 42%…42% of American adults are obese. That’s a staggering number and a scary statistic. This statistic is one of the many reasons I am so passionate about doing what I do and helping as many people as I can upgrade their health.
So I’ve been thinking about the 42% and wondering, “Is obesity a disease?”
This is a question that may seem a bit controversial, and it’s possible that you may have strong feelings one way or another about this subject matter.
I am taking some time to put my thoughts on paper today, because this is something that causes much pain in the world, and it is completely avoidable!
Let’s face it. Obesity is a result of lifestyle choice, not a medical illness. That said, don’t shut down, keep reading.
To be honest, when I decided to write on this subject, I really didn’t know whether or not obesity was officially considered a disease. I mean, I’ve heard it referred to as a disease, but unless it’s “officially recognized”, it’s not real. Right?
So, I went about researching the topic of obesity, starting with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the WHO (World Health Organization).
Although there is much information on obesity on the CDC’s website, I wasn’t able to find it referenced as a disease.
WHO’s website was similar in that there is a lot of good content on obesity, but I couldn’t find a reference to obesity as a disease.
I often checkout the Mayo Clinic’s website, as I consider them to be a strong resource, and I found it in the first sentence on what appears to be their Obesity home page.
“Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat.”
Of course that wasn’t enough for me, I needed at least one other solid reference for me to be convinced that obesity is officially recognized as a disease.
And I found it. The AMA’s (American Medical Association) declared it a disease on or around June 18, 2013, according to Forbes”
“The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially recognized obesity as a disease, a designation that physicians hope will improve patient outcomes and reimbursements for obesity-related care”
Prior to 2013 the AMA had referred to obesity as a major public health issue. The Forbes article went on to say “Although this week’s decision has no legal standing, federal and state policymakers often adopt the group’s positions when drafting medical and public health regulations.”
Although this research has made my brain spin, I finally understand what’s going on today with whether obesity is considered a disease. Turns out that it’s not defined as a disease, because obesity (defined as a BMI as 30+) is associated with increased risk for disease but a risk factor is not a disease.
To me, this is outrageous and frightening!
Obesity reduces quality of life & results in poorer mental health. It’s also the leading cause of death, in the United States and worldwide, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.
And there’s more. Much more. The CDC does a good job of summing up the health consequences, so I am going to quote their website directly.
- High blood pressure
- High LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, or high levels of triglycerides
- Type 2 diabetes
- Coronary heart disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Osteoarthritis (breakdown of cartilage & bone within a joint
- Sleep apnea & breathing problems
- Many types of cancers
- Low quality of life
- Mental illness such as clinical depression, anxiety & other mental disorders
- Body pain & difficulty with physical functioning.
I read a couple other consequences that the CDC did not mention, sexual dysfunction and shame.
Obesity affects sexual health, in part, by contributing to decreased libido and erectile dysfunction, in some cases.
A very real & relevant increased risk for people with obesity is severe illness from COVID-19.
The Covid-19 risks have to do with impaired immune function of people with obesity and decreased lung capacity can make ventilation more difficult. Studies have also shown that obesity may be linked to lower vaccine response for numerous diseases including influenza, Hepatitis B and tetanus.
I’d like to address the human component of obesity.
During my life in corporate America I traveled a lot.
Because airline seats are so small and restrictive, it’s difficult for a person who is obese to fit comfortably in the seats. I blame the airlines for putting profits over passenger comfort or even the functionality of their seats.
Still there is a price to pay for airline profits, and not just literally, figuratively, too. That price is paid for by people who are obese.
I have seen more than a few people on flights have to ask for a seatbelt extender. Seat Belt extenders are exactly what they sound like. They increase the length of the seatbelt.
But there is one time I recall so vividly. I had been asked to move to a middle seat so that the seat in the aisle could be used by a lovely woman, whom I will affectionately call Glitter.
I was a bit annoyed, although accommodating, about forfeiting my aisle seat. If you’ve ever flown, you know exactly what I am talking about, NO ONE wants to sit in a middle seat, even if they’re 5’ 3”. Plus, I had no idea why I’d been asked to move, until Glitter was seated next to me.
Glitter was extremely apologetic when she arrived. She was also mortified as the flight attendant brought her a seatbelt extender. I assure you that the flight attendant did so with compassion and as much discretion as possible on a full flight.
It took Glitter a moment to settle in and get the seat belt extender in place, but once she had, she was again apologetic to me, explaining that she hadn’t been on a plane in over a decade and had no idea she now required a seatbelt extender.
She was so kind, and I was compassionate and did all I could to make her feel as comfortable as possible.
But nothing could shield the shame she was feeling or the tears from welling up in her eyes. It was absolutely tragic. I would have done anything to fix this for her, to take away the pain she was so obviously feeling.
We talked throughout the flight. Glitter shared that her weight had slowly crept up year after year and that she was just mortified that the airline seats could no longer accommodate her comfortably.
To be fair, most airline seats don’t comfortably accommodate the majority of adults.
When we landed, Glitter and I said our goodbyes, and I was off to a meeting.
But that experience changed me.
You see, shame is a gut wrenching feeling, one that I’d never wish one anyone. There have been times where I’ve felt it in my life, and it destroys your joy and your ability to love yourself.
Have you felt shame before in your life? If you have, I hope you’ve grown from it instead of allowing your growth to be stunted. It can truly go either way.
So, the question I’ve wanted to solve is “How?” How can we stop obesity from spreading like wildfire? There are so many beautiful parts of life that it steals.
And it’s both preventable and reversible.
I think the first thing that’s important is education. Obesity education needs to be in every school and in every classroom.
From a young age children must clearly understand what causes a person to become obese and how to prevent it. They must also learn the severe consequences obesity brings.
- Consuming foods that are calorically dense and high in sugar and fats
- Decreased physical activity
- Limit intake of calorically dense foods that are high in sugar and fats
- Increase consumption of healthy fresh foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains & nuts.
- Increase physical activity (60+ minutes a day for children & 150+ minutes throughout the week for adults).
- Reducing the fat, sugar & salt in processed “foods”
- Stop aiming advertisements, for “foods” high in fat & sugar, at children
- Promoting drinking water instead of sugary beverages, by taking soda machines out of schools
- Swapping unhealthy foods in vending machines with healthy, whole, natural foods
- Adding salad bars and upgrading school lunch quality
- Encouraging physical activity breaks throughout the day and requiring daily P.E. classes from Kinder to 12th grade
We can stop buying “foods” that are high in sugar, fat and salt! If demand for these “foods” dried up, so would the product. Food companies would be forced to use fresh & natural ingredients in their foods, ones that provide health benefits & not just empty calories.
Ultimately, it is up to each of us to take care of our own bodies & educate our youth about how to do the same.
We could eradicate obesity by taking ownership of what we put into our bodies. Don’t they deserve to be treated with kindness & care? Afterall, we only get one body.
So, is obesity a disease? It certainly causes “dis ease,” but it’s only a contributing factor to the vast number of serious diseases that are related to weight.
It’s honestly a mess, because there are doctors that spend a lot of their time counseling and treating people with obesity, and they’d like to be paid for their time. If obesity were considered a disease, doctors could be compensated for the time they spend for that treatment.
There are also doctors who choose to ignore obesity or don’t spend the time necessary to counsel people that are obese, because they know they are not compensated for it.
It’s possible that doctors would be more focused on obesity if they were compensated for it, as the population for people with obesity is growing every year.
Declaring obesity a disease could also make it more approachable and acceptable in so much that it cannot be reversed. And that’s not true.
Obesity doesn’t have to be a death sentence. In fact, there are wonderful examples of people who fought obesity and won! Consider people like Jennifer Hudson, John Goodman, Al Roker and Kirstie Alley.
The other side of the coin is that if we do make obesity an official disease, we would turn our backs on prevention and spend more of our time on treatment.
You’ve likely noticed more and more companies are offering wellness plans with perks like reduced insurance premiums, coverage of gym membership fees, wellness coaching and cold hard cash, if you meet certain criteria like attending the gym regularly or logging your workouts through your fitness tracker.
I actually served as a fitness coach for a wellness company, and I appreciate that they focus on preventative measures in addition to “treatment” of existing conditions. Check out my article about wellness companies: “9 Reasons Your Company Needs a Wellness Program.”
I want to mention one other thing, to be balanced, I searched whether anorexia is classified as a disease. Because anorexia, in some ways, is on the opposite side of the spectrum from obesity, it made sense to learn this.
It turns out that anorexia is not officially considered a disease either. It is categorized as a mental & physical health condition.
Although everyone has their own thoughts and feelings around obesity, I think we can all agree that EDUCATION is the key to eradicating it and that we all play an important role in taking care of ourselves and our families and upgrading to healthier lifestyle choices.
I wish you a wonderful week ahead and look forward to connecting next week.
AND if you haven’t joined our LTG Fitness Insiders Facebook group, what are you waiting for? We want you!