Brave new fatter world

In no way am I qualified to make any sort of medical diagnosis (hence the reporter gig at a small newspaper). I have no medical degree, no formal training, and aside from high school biology, no educational background in the field of life science whatsoever. Needless to say, I usually refrain from saying what should and should not constitute a “disease.”

Any reservations, however, were pushed aside this week when I heard the American Medical Association approved measures that labels obesity as a disease. Although the AMA’s statement doesn’t mean obesity is legally classified as a disease, the organization does have a lot of pull in the medical world, meaning obesity could be on the fast track (or slow, wheezing track rather) to join the likes of anemia, hepatitis and the common cold. The move would arguably entice physicians to put the issue of obesity in the forefront, and health insurers would have to fork over money to pay for obesity-related treatments.

Let’s not beat around the bush. Obesity is as much a disease as an itchy new shirt. Given, there are diseases that lead to obesity, just as there are diseases that result from obesity. But to say obesity is a disease in itself is just too much to accept, even for a bomb-pop lover like myself. It’s a condition wrought by lifestyle, disregard for self-control, a pantry full of processed foods and Mountain Dew ... and more fast-food restaurants than grocery stores. It’s not a disease.

Regardless my opinions contesting the AMA, credit should be given where credit is due. A spokesperson for the AMA said the move was part of a larger effort that encourages physicians to take obesity seriously, that they wanted to spotlight the issue as a primary concern in the medical field. That’s noble, I suppose.

Even so, it’s hard to ignore the possible ulterior motives behind the AMA’s statement – likely motives with dollar signs attached to them. Total obesity-related health care costs in New York State average $11.8 billion annually, a figure driven even higher as the number of obese and overweight children in the state (ages 6 to 17) tops 32 percent. Nationwide, the Center for Disease Control estimates medical costs of an obese individual to hover around $1,500 per year. Moreover, they lose roughly $360 in productivity, pay an extra $120 for life insurance, even shell out an additional $25 every year to fill up their gas tank.

It’s no wonder the weight loss industry is thriving. Anyone who watches prime-time television (or daytime television ... or television at all, really) has seen the latest and greatest breakthrough in weight loss technology, usually in pill form. From prescription and non-prescription (and the surreal all-you-can-eat-and-still-lose-weight magical potion), weight loss is a booming $20 billion a year industry. The legal classification of obesity as a “disease,” as proposed, would give an even bigger boost to drug companies looking to really tap into an already robust market.

Numbers aside, there are other concerns roused by AMA’s classification. Namely pride and integrity. While some countries struggle to feed the populace, the good ol’ U.S. of A faces the challenge of eating too much, to a point where doctors are inclined to call it a “disease” (admittedly, this so called “obesity epidemic” may be the result of what we choose to eat more than how much we eat).

Oh, brave new fatter world, what have we become? Is my generation doomed to tell our grandkids of the great obesity epidemic of 2013, the way my grandparents told stories of the polio epidemic of their generation?

“What was it like, grandpa?” they’ll ask. “It was terrible, little Johnny. There was bacon in milkshakes, sandwiches with donuts in place of bread, and cheese ... cheese was on everything. They called it the American way.”

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