Obesity, though it is a current national and world-wide epidemic, is a sensitive topic which falls in the gray area to many people about whether it is a disease or a poor lifestyle choice. Recently, Medscape conducted a poll titled “Is Obesity a Disease or a Choice?” 57% of the polling population said obesity was indeed a disease, while more than one-third of respondents, who were also health care providers, claimed that obesity is not a disease, but more so a lifestyle choice. Surprisingly as well, most of the health care providers answering no, were primary care physicians.
Of the physicians sampled, 80% believed that obesity is always the result of their patient’s poor lifestyle choices. And only a small 12% of these patients meet their long-term weight loss and health goals.
Many of the same health care providers who were polled mentioned that they do not offer counseling to their obese patients, and only about 30% suggest weight loss surgery. Even fewer providers recommend medications.
It is no surprise that our nation is struggling with an obesity crisis, and more medical professionals need to understand this and push for their patients to work towards a healthier version of themselves. Providers treating obesity as a disease can effectively deal with the biopsychosocial and economic issues which impact the patient and the community.
What Characterizes Obesity as a Disease
The following are reasons to classify obesity as a disease:
- It can impair body function
- It results from dysfunction of your body’s complex physiologic regulatory system
- It can cause or accelerate over 160 co-morbid conditions such as metabolic, structural, inflammatory, degenerative, neoplastic or psychological complications which can affect a person’s quality of life.
While some doctors argue that obesity is a risk factor, rather than a disease, the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease in 2013. However, many doctors today are still struggling to address it with patients during visits. Why?
Many responses to the poll reported that doctors are not well-equipped to talk about weight management with patients. And on the other hand, many patients are afraid to bring up the issue with their doctors because they feel their doctors will give them the same speech, “Just eat less and exercise more”, despite having tried every diet, exercise and supplement.
Speaking of weight loss supplements…
If you have ever tried weight loss supplements, you will notice the claims on the bottles: “America’s fastest selling supplement!! or “Hardcore weight loss!” But how many of you have actually lost the weight AND kept it off?
More than 30% of adults who have made a serious weight loss attempt have tried weight loss supplements. Because there is a lack of true understanding of obesity as a disease, there is now a multimillion dollar industry selling all types of non-prescription supplements which claim to burn fat without any solid scientific evidence. And we can see this as the weight loss supplement businesses continue to grow in size, but we do not shrink in size.
The Myths of Obesity
Many of the reasons medical professionals and the general public see obesity as a poor lifestyle choice rather than a disease are because of the many myths and stigmas around the issue. Below are some of the more common myths surrounding obesity:
- Obesity is self-inflicted. A person should learn to stop eating so much and take responsibilities for their obesity.
- To lose weight, we just need to put out more energy (exercise) than we intake (food consumption)
- Obese people obviously do not have self-discipline because they eat way too much or eat a lot of bad foods.
- Obesity is only a problem in developing nations where people are exploited by the massive food industries present there.
- Dietary modifications are all fads and there is no science to back it up.
- Obesity only became an issue 30-50 years ago. Before then, there was no obesity problem.
- Patients who do not lose weight with diet and exercise obviously are not working hard enough.
Obesity is problem which has been seen throughout the world for centuries, and it cannot be defined as a simple concept or mathematical equation, but rather a complex role of altered physiology. It is true that a healthy, balanced diet and exercise can significantly lower a person’s weight and obesity throughout the world, but with many complex biopsychosocial and environmental factors, just doing this may not be the only answer. Each person needs to address his or her own specific needs based on their medical history.
If you are having issues with weight loss, please speak to one of our providers here at Delta Gastroenterology or Delta Medical Weight Management Center who will help you lose weight for good based on your specific needs.
Call our office at 662-280-8222 or email [email protected] if you have questions.
Ulric Duncan MD, Diplomate of Obesity Medicine
9140 Highway 51 North
Southaven MS 38671
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Written by Zeenat Mirza