On Tuesday, June 18, the American Medical Association voted to officially classify obesity as a disease, a move that will forever change the way health and weight are viewed in the medical community.
While some are opposed to the idea of classifying obesity as a disease, others are convinced of the positive ramifications. Maybe, it is argued, there will be an increase in measures to prevent obesity from even taking hold. Perhaps programs will be implemented in schools for health and nutrition education, resulting in more physical exercise, and a change in the state of school lunches across the nation. Adults who suffer from clinical obesity may finally find the relief they seek, along with support from physicians and insurance companies. Could a new label be all this problem really needed?
The AMA has no concrete definition for “disease”, and so to define something as a disease when there are no parameters for defining the category in the first place is a slippery slope. A recent New York Times article also pointed out that the AMA’s decision to reclassify obesity has no legal authority either – they have, quite simply, rebranded this chronic disorder that affects more than one-third of adult Americans.
Regardless, the new definition now compels physicians to act. What was often previously considered a behavior problem will now be given as much clout as say, heart disease, said Dr. Rexford Ahima of the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism in a recent LA Times article.
Dr. William Davis, author of the popular book Wheat Belly, is not so quick to offer support for the recent rebranding. In a recent blog post, Davis responded to the AMA’s announcement by asking a few pointed questions about lobbying, drug research and development, and funding.
“In other words, while it is being cast as something being done for the public good, the motivation is more likely to be…money: Bariatric surgeons gain by expanding the market for their procedures to patients who previously did not have insurance coverage for this ‘non-disease’; operating room supply manufacturers will sell more equipment for the dramatically increased number of surgical procedures; obesity drug manufacturers will have the clout to pressure health insurers to cover the drugs for this new disease,” Davis wrote.
This new classification of obesity as a disease is multi-faceted – adults and children will now have access to insurance coverage for clinical therapy, emotional counseling, and their physicians’ attention to help reverse metabolic derangement. Yet, on the other hand, Big Pharma will continue to benefit from drug sales and insurance coverage.
In calling out the state of our current healthcare system, Davis redefined it in much the same way as the AMA redefined obesity, calling it “the system to maximize profit from sickness.”
Much the same way that the Paleo movement has redefined health with a decidedly do-it-yourself approach, involving wholesome nutrition and evolutionary movement, the AMA’s redefinition of obesity is changing the way the label is used. Will it be for better or for worse? Only time – and the state of our bodies and our health on a collective, national level – will tell.