We, as Americans, are fat. That doesn’t mean that we are all fat; it just means that nearly 1/3 of Americans are obese and for this we pay out $147 billion annually in medical expenditures related to obesity. If this strikes you as shocking, well, this is not something that has happened overnight. Some say we have been moving toward this cataclysm of an epidemic for decades now. Some blame the fast food industry. Some blame the pervasive culture of desire and greed. Some blame the individual for just eating way too much. Blame aside, obesity is, and remains, a huge problem in this country and seems to be doing anything but going away.
As of last week, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized obesity as a disease, which is a term that is made in effort to change the way the medical establishment wrestles with issues related to obesity. The labeling of obesity as a “disease” might not immediately change how doctors treat patients directly, but it will most certainly change the way obesity-related conditions are covered by insurance.
As it stands now, doctors are not readily encouraged to have the, sometimes, difficult conversations with patients about things like diet, exercise, and lifestyle decisions, not because they are awkward and difficult, but because such conversations are not reimbursed. So if the doctors don’t get paid, there is no incentive to alert a patient to their declining health. Instead doctors are driven toward conversations about procedures, rather than prevention. In the case of obesity, which is connected to everything from heart disease to diabetes, this is tragic.
Now that obesity is labeled as a disease, the hope is that there will be more of these diet and exercise conversations taking place (and paid for by insurance companies). But beyond the economics of the disease, it is hard to know how much this label will actually change. Could there be repercussions, such as more drugs created and unnecessarily prescribed? Will this label lead to more stigma? Also, by labeling obesity as a disease, will this take the focus off the food system, which markets cheap, substandard, nutritionally vacant foodstuffs to the masses at the expense of nearly everyone? Time will tell.
What do you think of this decision? Weigh in below.
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