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Canadian Medical Association Declares Obesity A Chronic Disease

cma_logoLast week, just in time for World Obesity Day, the Canadian Medical Association joined the American Medical Association and the Canadian Obesity Network in declaring obesity a chronic disease.

As Dr. Cindy Forbes, the CMA President points out,

“It is important for health care providers to recognize obesity as a disease so preventive measures can be put in place and patients can receive the appropriate treatment. This move by the CMA speaks to the importance of addressing obesity and dealing with the stigma that is often associated with the condition.”

Dr. Adam Steacie who brought the issue forward said recognizing obesity as a disease may precipitate a shift in thinking of obesity as just a lifestyle choice to a medical disease with an obligation to treat it as other diseases.

I was happy to note that despite declaring obesity a disease, the CMA also addressed the concerns about the limitations of using body mass index (BMI) as the measure for diagnosing obesity.

Thus, the CMA notes that,

“BMI is a useful operational definition for obesity but should not be used as the defining characteristic of the disease.”


Obviously, as I have often pointed out, declaring obesity a disease should not distract from effective public policy, education and awareness to prevent obesity. If anything, declaring obesity a disease should stimulate even more attention to efforts at prevention but also, hopefully, help mobilize more funding and resources to its research and treatment.

In light of this declaration, it is no longer tolerable that health insurance companies and benefit plans continue to deny coverage of treatments or obesity with the simplistic argument that obesity is simply a matter of “lifestyle choice”.

As regular readers are well aware, I am the first to agree that health cannot be measured by simply stepping on a scale and that there are indeed some individuals, who despite meeting the BMI criteria for obesity, may have bear little or no health risks. These folks will perhaps rightly object to being “mislabeled” as having a disease.

However, for the vast majority of people with excess weight, who do in fact face considerable health risks from excess weight, this declaration will hopefully be a step forward to getting them the help and support they need.

So here is what I hope this resolution will help achieve

  • improved training in obesity at medical schools and residency programs,
  • reduced stigma of obesity by the public and physicians,
  • improved insurance coverage for obesity-specific treatment
  • increased research funding for both prevention and treatment strategies

Edmonton, AB

1 Comment

  1. Good morning,
    I am in mid 40s and from a genetically obese family.

    I remember health Canada pamphlet stuck on fridge and was told I needed to diet at 12 yrs old while I was actually in full early development.

    I’ve always been ‘the big girl’ but remained obese according to medical but felt ok even being between 160-200 lbs most of my adult life. I gained crazy amounts of weight during my first pregnancy and that baby fat stayed for years. I was reminded of that fact when I see my c-section scar and remember hearing the Dr telling me not his fault the Staples being ripped from my belly hurt so much since I was young and too overweight..
    Healthy eating, working, etc kept me feeling fat but was more or less healthy except for a bit of extremely high blood pressure which was regulated wth meds. Stress was a big factor at that time.
    Both my children and husband had obese tendencies as well..Sports, more or less healthy lifestyle and nutritious meals helped but still they got teased at school.
    My son became super heavy weigh national Olympic style boxer at a young age competing against kids and adults much older than him but because of weight category, it was ‘ ok’
    I fluctuated and ultimately gained more after being on meds after a head injury. Even tho long term concussion symptoms remained, I still felt off because of weight n adverse effects from meds. Talking to GP he did not agree to stop taking the cocktail that was supposed to help me heal from numerous nerve and pain and brain functioning. I ultimately quit all Rx and turned to cannabis, divorced, travelled and lost weight.
    Even tho the stigma of munchies is apparent, healthy balanced eating helps – when I can afford it.
    Which brings me to another point. Affordability and adverse réactions to meds creating adverse body functions and triggering that obese Gene.
    My daughter at a young age developed an eating disorder I wasn’t really aware of at that time. Mental Health, intellectual disAbility, etc was pressure enough. However, structured activities, nutritious eating kept the family more or less at a healthy weight.
    As a young adult who had great difficulties coping with family separation, abandonment issues, she ultimately went into a great depression after not being able to live with Dad and his new wife.
    Eating was comforting and psychiatrists started giving her meds her body had never taken. Even tho from a young age her pediatrician diagnosed her showing adverse and high sensitivity to meds, the GP, whose hands were tied behind his back, the psychiatrists kept pushing legal Drugs killing my baby.
    They blamed her eating habits on weight gain which were accurate but she ballooned in a swelled mass, water seeping through her skin on her legs but according to all Drs I spoke with nothing was related to Rx. Of course I knew differently. But who was I to question them, I was told I was just the overprotective mom.. She went through a few years of psychosis and numerous serious health issues I believe would not have occurred maybe, as they did as meds seemed to increase medical problems but since it controlled her behaviours, that was ok..?
    Lung aneurysm, diabetes, (which is genetic and was always my driving force to try to maintain healthy habits) but mental health often overtakes the application of ‘good choices’
    Ultimately the guinea pig phase of meds is done, she’s regulated and still obese. She sees a nutritionist, has learned newer life skills, is pushed by her numerous staff, chastised yet encouraged to make wise choices and never once, as far as I know, The Drs take into consideration that it’s a chronic disease.
    Meds, depression, etc will go 2 ways, over eat or not eat at all.. Which is best? The skinny person will receive accolades or pity and the obese person will be looked at disgustingly.. who is responsible..?
    But when Drs don’t listen to family, it caused her and myself extreme physical and emotional pain. With pain re creates the hamster wheel back in motion. Without family support, a person, not all, but most will fall between cracks.
    Other countries encourage holistic health and is increasing in Canada as well, but ‘ poor’ ppl can’t always access those treatments. – healthy food, massage, chiro, acupuncture etc.. but as they take that pill, and feel better mentally for a short while but physically get worse, not all ppl but most, the Dr and Government keep getting richer..
    Things may change now with clearer transparency of drug companies and charges Drs prescribe but damage done after a lifetime of showing my kids healthy choices, I got injured and psychs got involved with my youngest and it was a horror watching her sleep unknowing if it was to be her last breath..
    Now that she was getting ‘stable’ this past year from Independant Assisted Living Workers n nighttime workers, there’s another cause for concern as possible funding may affect living choices. Abandonment issues being re triggered with staff changes etc..
    That is an entire worrisome issue for parents of complex need kids and long term living.
    As the parents in North Bay showed their concern of what to do with serious Autism or other disAbility and needing care for the kids, and adult kids but also for parents. Outreach workers are needed on all levels of the health and social programs.
    Indépendant Living housing and staff, re opening group homes for specific disAbilities need to be funded.
    If some of these kids’ disAbiluties come from vaccines and meds, why can’t pharma companies not help fund homes..
    Even born with a disAbility or developed later in life, a percentage of housing needs to be addressed, assigned to this with special needs as well.
    Seniors are hurting, kids are hurting, young families struggling.. Not all but some.
    Social assistance programs help but also enable ‘bad habits’.
    The mental health stigma remains and always will. May have decreased with media etc but as long as the communities see how social assistance recipients take those monies as ‘hand outs’ as opposed to ‘hands up’, social and economic And health & drug issues will remain.

    Poverty, jobs, family Dynamics and services aren’t equally distributed across the country.. Seeing increase in suicides n health etc..
    While reading an Article in Maclean’s 2015 Canada disappearing and how census aren’t being properly reported and various data having been deleted. The information may be gone from databases but we are living and seeing the consequences now. Not just environment but actual ‘ living,’
    What community members, activists, parents have been saying for 5, 10, 20, 30 + yrs had fallen on deaf ears and still is..
    These smaller communities are suffering and bigger communities have more people falling between the cracks unless someone other than those working in system stepd up.. The workers have protocol to follow and a job at stake.. The advocate will speak up but can only do so much without back up..

    Doesn’t help how we have an ignorant big mouth racist neighbor in the US rattling everyone and distracting the world, and our own leader says he wants to help but unless we fight our own fights, we lose..
    I needed to do my own investigations regarding medical, housing, services etc.. And ultimately wrote letters forwarded by the MPs office directed to the Ministries of Health and Social Services to inquire why clients of DSO Development Services of Ontario could not access services from CHMA.. it was considered to be’double dipping’ of services. However, our loved ones with dual diagnosis being high functioning can now access both..
    The social hamster wheel at it’s best, society trying to get better, trying to be responsible, being tempted or denied and being persecuted by Dr and society as they get sicker and sicker, not all, but some..
    Obesity is a disease. For some not all. I come from a genetically obese family with diabetes, heart issues etc.. why wouldn’t my Dr or her team of mental health Care not take that genetic disorder into consideration..? They needed to stabilize her with legal Drugs almost killing her, becoming almost paralyzed once in hospital due to over dosing a med given by Dr.
    I asked GP years ago for proper referral to’ obese treatment’ homes etc.. Nothing.
    Difficult getting proper medical representative for individual needs.
    As humans, we are supposed to fit into same mold, as per Psych..
    Treating one issue is supposed to help another, I’ve been told.. Medicating the mental health should fix the obesity.. It doesn’t!
    If family and staff and workers and Drs and patients can realize it is a disease, not for all, but some, ..then I hope someone can help more so we may live better..

    I realize I touched many subjects but they’re all interconnected and personal
    Much love through heartache
    Rachelle Carriere

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