In case you haven’t heard, obesity has officially been recognized as a disease. Ever since this declaration, people have been debating whether this is a good or bad thing. There seem to be equal supporters for and against the new label and both sides have some very valid points. I understand the pros and cons that both sides have brought up and I have a few of my own. While I’ll share my opinion on labeling obesity as a disease, I think that the more important question I have about this whole thing is what will change? How will this help to make things better?
From my perspective, recognizing obesity as a disease is a good first step, but I worry that it will backfire. I am really glad that people who need help have a better chance at actually getting that help now that obesity is considered a disease. Insurance companies may provide more financial support, allowing doctors to be better equipped and ready to help treat obese patients. But here is where I start to get a little leery about this, I think that people will start using this as a crutch to not do anything. I feel that they will take the “Oh I have a disease, there really isn’t anything I can do” attitude and not try to change. I worry that people will turn to drugs or miracle pills rather than educating themselves on eating better foods or moving more. Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that being obese is a case by case disease and that some people really might have no control over their weight gain. In those cases I know that surgery and medication may be the only way to go. I also know that some people use those methods as the easy way out and now that obesity is a disease, many drug companies are going to start pumping out more and more medications that will combat obesity. What’s easier? Overhauling your eating and your lifestyle or taking a pill 3 times a day?
My other big worry is that the whole focus of obesity is going to shift from prevention to treatment. In fact, that is my concern with a lot of our healthcare issues. So many diseases and conditions are 100% preventable, yet we wait until they move past the prevention stage and move into the treatment stage. Obesity, and the many conditions that come along with obesity, is one of these diseases. There are so many things that we can do prevent obesity, yet we are the most obese country in the world. We know that if we eat better and exercise we can greatly reduce the risk of obesity and all it’s related disease/ailments. Unfortunately I see obesity being called a disease furthering the problem of treatment vs. prevention. I try not to always see the glass as half-empty, but I feel like drug companies and many doctors will see this as a prime opportunity to make even more money and I worry that Americans will fall right into that trap. Sadly we like the easy way out of things and getting surgery or taking medications is a lot easier than putting in the work to prevent obesity.
I haven’t lost all hope though. I think that this is also a prime opportunity for people to step up and really make some big overhauls when it comes to people’s health. There are so many groups and organizations out there that are striving to educate the public about being healthier (prevention rather than treatment) and I hope that this new label will give them the means and support to further their endeavors. Take Microgreens for example. This non-profit organization works with children in the D.C. area teaching them how to cook and prepare low cost meals. Children whose families benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps), can take classes through Microgreens and learn how to budget, shop for and prepare a healthy meal all for $3.50 per meal. This is a great program because it not only educates children about healthy eating, it shows them how to go through each step of the process and learning these skills at a young age is so important for future health. It also encourages kids to share their knowledge and skills with their families, spreading the education of better health even further. It would be amazing if we could get these types of programs to children and families all over the country and perhaps we can make that possible now that obesity is a disease.
Another benefit I hope to see is more in-depth, one on one counseling for those individuals who are serious about bettering their health and leaving obesity behind. Before alcoholism was labeled a disease in 1956, there was little to no help for those battling their addiction, in fact most people viewed alcoholism as a stigma and tried to ignore the problem rather than do anything about it. Once it became a disease though, so many more resources opened up. Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous were formed, treatment centers were set up, and counselors were trained to work with both alcoholics and their families. I am not trying to say that obese people and alcoholics are in any way the same; each disease has it’s own criteria and symptoms. Labeling alcoholism as a disease enabled preventative education and treatment options to flourish, and I believe labeling obesity as a disease can do the same. Perhaps more programs and groups will be formed to help those dealing with obesity, and for all those affected by obesity. Maybe more schools and communities across the nation will be equipped with classes to help educate the public and prevent obesity from even starting. How great would it be if those people who are obese or overweight weren’t treated like social pariah’s and ignored but rather were given an abundance of resources to help them heal and have better health and better lives?
Do I think that calling obesity a disease will fix all the problems magically? No. Do I worry that it could make things worse? A little. Do I believe that good changes can happen from this? You bet. While I think we need to proceed with caution on this, I wholeheartedly believe that this can be the start of some great things for America’s health. It’s up to us to help guide which way this can all go. If we put our support behind things like better food in schools and supermarkets, organizations that are fighting to educate the public about health, and help for those who are struggling with obesity or their health in general, I think that we can make some major strides toward a happier and healthier future for everyone.