Healthy Living

Health Care Providers ask, ‘Is Obesity a Disease?’

Doctors looking at radiography in hospitalThere is a pretty big debate on in the health industry right now and it might seem like a semantic argument, but the conclusion could have far reaching consequences.

If you hadn’t guessed, the question on their minds: Is obesity a disease?

The rising number of Americans who are seriously overweight has triggered intense debate among scientists, federal agencies, insurance companies and drug makers about whether obesity should be declared a “disease,” a move that seems to have opened up quite the can of worms.

Both sides make some good points and there are quite a few benefits and pitfalls to the change that could have an impact on most Americans. While the BMI scale can be fairly flawed, it’s the most commonly used scale for measuring someone’s health and what the reports are saying can be pretty discouraging. Nearly 70% of Americans can be categorized as “overweight” with 30% of them ranking in the range of obese to morbidly obese. It’s clearly something our nation needs to address, but is a simple semantic argument really what we need on the subject?

Well, in a word, yes.

You see, there are those who believe that the disease characterization would help for a variety of reasons. It would make health insurance easier to navigate and it would give doctors fewer limits on the help they can provide under covered care. Currently doctors must treat the “symptoms” of obesity without being able to do much about the overarching issue. They can tell you that you need to exercise and eat healthy in order to get your blood pressure down, or to avoid diabetes but they have limited pull for how you lose that weight. It would also put more funding into research for “cures”. I read one story where the doctor put it in the context of “we use the term obesity-related illnesses now and what we need to be doing is turn it around. High blood pressure, diabetes, clogged arteries, and many heart conditions are symptoms of obesity, not the other way around.” Basically you have a cold and the doctor can only treat the cough or the fever rather than the cold. (That might be a bad analogy as there is currently no real cure for the common cold, but you get the point.)

They also feel like the current trend shows that Americans are not taking the issue seriously enough, which definitely needs to change.

On the flip side of the coin there are those who feel that the “disease” label gives people a free pass to avoid helping themselves. That many Americans would use it as an excuse to become complacent about their health. While many of these doctors agree that the health coverage limitations given to them are somewhat binding, they argue that increased coverage should not come at the cost of disenfranchising those who are doing what it takes to be healthy without the need for doctor’s care. They say calling obesity a disease would stigmatize a huge population, and categorize some people as “sick” who actually may be healthy.

Back in July, the American Medical Association (AMA) took up the question of whether to classify obesity as a disease at a meeting, and decided more research was needed on the topic, deferring the decision to a later date.

So what do you think? Silly semantics or necessary change?



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