Why Recognising Obesity as a Disease is Only Fair to Those Affected By This Condition

American-Medical-Association-logoFor most of yesterday, apart from running a rather full clinic, I was busy answering media queries and giving interviews on the  American Medical Association’s “vote” to “recognize” obesity as a “disease”.

Regular readers, who are well aware of my arguments in favour of “medicalizing” obesity, will no doubt guess that my overall response to this move was rather enthusiastic.

This is not to deny the shortcomings of using a BMI-based definition of obesity – again, regular readers, will be well aware of my reservations and concerns about its limitations for individuals and medical practice.

Yet, I stand by my view that obesity can and needs to be “medicalized” in order to help the millions of Americans (and hopefully Canadians) who live with excess weight and the illnesses and disabilities related to it.

Unfortunately, obesity continues to be often viewed by governments, payers, healthcare professionals, media and individuals as being largely caused by laziness and over-consumption, a stigmatizing oversimplification of a complex health problem.

In contrast, if governments, healthcare professionals, payers, media and individuals viewed obesity as a disease, we can perhaps create a world where health professionals are remunerated for providing treatment services, where people with obesity can seek medical assistance with confidence, and where public and private funders see the provision of obesity prevention and treatment resources  and related research as a priority.

Whether or not this recognition by the AMA will have these results remains to be seen but this is certainly an important step in the right direction.

As far as Canada (and many other countries around the world are concerned) , we still have a long way to go towards translating what we have learnt about obesity into healthcare policies and clinical practice.

Nevertheless, following the the 2009 resolution of the Canadian Medical Association, which

“…encourages provincial/territorial medical associations to work in conjunction with the Canadian Obesity Network to help develop chronic care models for obesity prevention and management.”,

the Canadian Obesity Network has certainly done its share in helping address anti-fat bias and discrimination but also in providing tools (such as the 5As of Obesity Management) to enable health care practitioners to better manage individuals affected by this condition.

Edmonton, AB