A recent study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine discovered what many in the fat acceptance movement have been saying for years: weight loss isn’t as easy as simply eating less or exercising a little more. It turns out a significant portion of these people have a disability that keeps them from staying active. In fact, many people with mobility issues also have chronic illnesses which may also be affecting their metabolism, energy levels and weight.
In the current rush to officially label and treat obesity as a “disease,” this bears some serious thought. Studies already show that fat patients have trouble getting doctors to take them seriously. Doctors seeing overweight patients tend to spend less time with the patient, engage in less discussion, and are often reluctant to even perform routine preventative health screenings.
The reluctance to see anything but a patient’s weight can even be dangerous. Often, doctors will assume any complaint a fat patient might have is connected to their weight and try to avoid tests or treatment of the actual, underlying issue. In some cases, they may choose treatments that may not be the most effective or prescribe medications with nasty side effects, all in an effort to “help” their patient lose weight. After encountering these attitudes, it should come as no surprise that many overweight and obese people avoid going to the doctor unless absolutely necessary, which is a health risk all on its own.
By treating obesity as a disease, doctors may be missing the real reason for a patient’s health problems. They may even be missing the medical cause of the patient’s obesity — like polycystic ovarian syndrome, low thyroid function and mood disorders such as depression. Even certain prescription medications can cause weight gain, and in those situations, it may be healthier to just carry the extra weight.
By treating the symptoms as the disease in need of a cure, doctors are actually setting these patients up to fail when they attempt a new diet or exercise routine. What they really need in order to lose unhealthy weight is proper treatment of their condition or accommodations for their disability. For some, the weight may never come off no matter how hard they try. It doesn’t mean they’re lazy. They still deserve access to high-quality medical care.
Luckily, some organizations out there have been advocating for more sensitive treatment of overweight and obese patients, so that they feel safe visiting the doctor and can decide on the treatment plan that is best suited to their personal needs. At the same time, more patients are learning how to stand up for themselves when confronted with doctors who refuse to address their actual symptoms.
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