- Calling Obesity a Disease Is A Terrible Decision
The medical world struggles to see the difference between health and body weight. It is still mostly combined with the strong belief that there is no way a fat person can be fit and healthy. Despite repeated studies and work to show differently, this prejudice remains. This has become part of what I call “Everyone Knows” pseudoscience, where data that have no scientific basis become “fact” due to constant repetition.
Obesity is already the cause of great stigma in our society. Fat people are considered “ugly,” fat jokes are acceptable in everyday life, and being called ‘fat’ is, to many, as big an insult as a racial slur. Fat prejudice can approach the levels of racial prejudice (Puhl, Andreyevea & Brownell, 2008). Fat children are bullied, sometimes to the point of suicide. Some studies have found children as young as five trying to diet for being fat, no matter their actual weight. Fat people are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and there are prejudicial beliefs that fat workers are more problematic, despite research saying otherwise (Roehling, Roehling, & Odland, 2008).
Obesity is seen by the masses as something people choose. However, science disagrees. There has long been a link between depression and obesity. Mental health is tightly tied to obesity, where those who experience weight discrimination are more likely to gain weight, although unhealthy behaviours such as binge eating and exercise avoidance are sometimes seen as a coping mechanism (Sutin & Teracciano, 2013).
It has been reported in a number of journals that 90–95% of the people who lose weight regain the weight within 10 years (Mann et al., 2007; Miller, 1999). “Everyone Knows” claims that this is because people go back to bad habits. Science, however, says that there are complex ways the body wants to regain the weight (Sumithran & Proietto, 2013; Sumithran et al., 2011). Worse, dieting may contribute to obesity. Adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet (Stice, Cameron, R. P., Killen, J. D., Hayward, C. & Taylor, C. B. 1999). Weight loss dieting may cause other health problems as well, such as immune system problems (Shade ED, et al. 2004).
In the medical world, doctors are encouraged to talk to patients about their weight. Every fat person has heard, “What are we going to do about your weight?” The “we” is supposed encourage the patient to feel that the doctor is on the patient’s side in their battle. Yet what many patients hear is, “I don’t see you as a patient, I see you as fat.” Science says that the higher a patient’s BMI the less respect a doctor has for the patient (Huzinga, Cooper, Bleich, Clark, & Beach, 2009).
Horror stories about fat people trying to get decent health care are everywhere. For a good example, see Bruce Taylor Seeman’s piece, “The Perils of Obesity May Include the Doctor” (2006). [End Page E1] There are many blogs and stories on the internet about the way patients are not just shamed for their weight, but actively bullied by medical professionals. One blog, The Well Rounded Mama (wellroundedmama.blogspot.com), discusses the bias of doctors against pregnant fat women, who are told things like, “You cannot have a healthy baby when you are this fat” and encouraged to abort. Tales from people told that their weight is the cause for everything and anything can be found on sites like First Do No Harm (fathealth.wordpress.com). Reading blogs by medical professionals can show the disdain they have for fat people. In one, an emergency room nurse declared that all fat diabetics have poor control, based solely on perceptions from her job. Comments were mostly other nurses agreeing with how “disgusting” fat people are to have to deal with. However, Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity not only recognizes the problem but aims to help medical professionals eliminate the bias.
If obesity becomes a disease, weight loss surgery (WLS) becomes a bigger gold mine. Medical insurance will be more likely to cover weight loss surgery. WLS is an ever-changing target: there...