It’s Official: Obesity Is Now A Disease

I was a guest on the Sun News Network in Canada this morning, talking about the American Medical Association’s decision to classify obesity as a disease – not as a marker of disease, but as a disease in and of itself.  (That will come as a shock to the many obese people who live into their 80s and 90s while suffering from the disease – and yes, that happens.)

Obesity is not a disease. Obesity correlates with disease because the main drivers of many diseases – chronically elevated glucose and insulin levels – can also make you fat. But lots of obese people are healthy in spite of being fat, and lots of lean people are unhealthy. I mentioned awhile back that a small, lean co-worker asked me to look at his latest lab tests. His HDL was abysmally low and his triglycerides were way too high. Meanwhile, back when I was still classified as “obese” with 31% bodyfat, my HDL was high and my triglycerides were low. My lean co-worker is at much greater risk of dropping dead than I was back in my “obese” days.

As for why the AMA decided to classify obesity as a disease, Dr. William Davis already spelled it nicely out on his Wheat Belly Blog, so I’ll just quote him:

Well, it’s hard to know how the internal discussions at the AMA went until we get a look at the transcripts. But let’s take a look at the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC). I believe it tells the whole story.

The OAC Board of Directors is filled with bariatric surgeons, such as Drs. Titus Duncan and Lloyd Stegemann, people who make a living from procedures and surgeries like gastric bypass and lap-band. The largest contributors to the OAC? Eisai Pharmaceuticals, maker of BELVIQ, the new drug for weight loss; Ethicon EndoSurgery, makers of laparoscopic operating room supplies; Vivus, Inc., another obesity drug maker; the American Society for Bariatric Surgeons; and Orexigen, developer of the combination drug naltrexone-buproprion for weight loss, now in FDA application stage. (Recall that naltrexone is the opiate blocking drug taken by heroin addicts but now being proposed to be gain approval for weight loss.)

In other words, while it is being cast as something being done for the public good, the motivation is more likely to be … money: Bariatric surgeons gain by expanding the market for their procedures to patients who previously did not have insurance coverage for this “non-disease”; operating room supply manufacturers will sell more equipment for the dramatically increased number of surgical procedures; obesity drug manufacturers will have the clout to pressure health insurers to cover the drugs for this new disease.

As always, follow the money.

Over the weekend, I dug out the original footage from my Fat Head interview with Dr. Eric Oliver, author of Fat Politics, and put together a sequence of clips addressing the topic of obesity and disease. He told me back in 2008 that insurance coverage for weight-loss drugs and procedures was behind the push to label obesity itself as a disease.  Looks like that push is working.

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103 thoughts on “It’s Official: Obesity Is Now A Disease

  1. TBM

    Doctors are more far more likely to dismiss a person’s cardiac symptoms as less serious or mere anxiety if they’re lean. Especially if you’re lean and young! Conversely they’re more likely to just give the easy answer of blaming weight for symptoms which may have nothing to do with weight. Either way they’re not as thorough.

    Good point. I read a book awhile back titled “How Doctors Think.” The author (a doctor) described a case in which a lean, muscular park ranger went to the hospital because he was sweating, having difficulty breathing, etc. Someone gave him a pill and sent him home. Turns out he was having a heart attack, which no one bothered to check because he looked so healthy.

    Reply
    1. Walter Bushell

      Doctors think? I thought they looked up the numbers and prescribed according to the Pharma detail plan. At least if you are using insurance. I expect that to get good medical care one must pay out of pocket. Sometimes paying cash can be cheaper than the co-pay,
      particularly if it’s cash cash. Or so I’ve heard.

      Reply
  2. TBM

    Doctors are more far more likely to dismiss a person’s cardiac symptoms as less serious or mere anxiety if they’re lean. Especially if you’re lean and young! Conversely they’re more likely to just give the easy answer of blaming weight for symptoms which may have nothing to do with weight. Either way they’re not as thorough.

    Good point. I read a book awhile back titled “How Doctors Think.” The author (a doctor) described a case in which a lean, muscular park ranger went to the hospital because he was sweating, having difficulty breathing, etc. Someone gave him a pill and sent him home. Turns out he was having a heart attack, which no one bothered to check because he looked so healthy.

    Reply
    1. Walter Bushell

      Doctors think? I thought they looked up the numbers and prescribed according to the Pharma detail plan. At least if you are using insurance. I expect that to get good medical care one must pay out of pocket. Sometimes paying cash can be cheaper than the co-pay,
      particularly if it’s cash cash. Or so I’ve heard.

      Reply
  3. Bill C.

    This is going to be great. Now they can force insurance companies to pay for the mistreatment of obese patients. The doctors will make more money, the drug companies will make more money, and yes, the insurance companies will also make more money because we will all get to pay higher health care premiums! Also, now millions more Americans have a pre-existing condition……

    That sounds about right.

    Reply
  4. Bill C.

    This is going to be great. Now they can force insurance companies to pay for the mistreatment of obese patients. The doctors will make more money, the drug companies will make more money, and yes, the insurance companies will also make more money because we will all get to pay higher health care premiums! Also, now millions more Americans have a pre-existing condition……

    That sounds about right.

    Reply
  5. Ed

    Obesity as a disease?? Wow, great way to pay for the new Mercedes.

    Our perception of how prevalent obesity is depends on large part in where we make the observations. When I am in my local Whole Foods market I rarely see anyone who is slightly more than a little overweight. Go to our local Walmart and it would appear half of the world must be morbidly obese.

    It’s regional too. In our area, I really don’t see many obese people. But when we travel, that can change rather quickly.

    Reply
  6. Bret

    Great interview with Dr. Oliver. He is a brilliant person, and articulate too. I found the full-length episode of the Stossel show featured in your Food Police video and watched Dr. O’s appearance and comments for the first time this morning. He did a splendid job debating and debunking Banzhaf and Roth without stooping to their level and being pedantic.

    I wish more university scholars were like him.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    Reply
  7. Ed

    Obesity as a disease?? Wow, great way to pay for the new Mercedes.

    Our perception of how prevalent obesity is depends on large part in where we make the observations. When I am in my local Whole Foods market I rarely see anyone who is slightly more than a little overweight. Go to our local Walmart and it would appear half of the world must be morbidly obese.

    It’s regional too. In our area, I really don’t see many obese people. But when we travel, that can change rather quickly.

    Reply
  8. Bret

    Great interview with Dr. Oliver. He is a brilliant person, and articulate too. I found the full-length episode of the Stossel show featured in your Food Police video and watched Dr. O’s appearance and comments for the first time this morning. He did a splendid job debating and debunking Banzhaf and Roth without stooping to their level and being pedantic.

    I wish more university scholars were like him.

    I agree wholeheartedly.

    Reply
  9. Aubrey Madrona

    Obesity is both complex and controversial. And to put it mildly, there are differing opinions about whether or not classifying obesity as a disease would improve health outcomes.

    Reply
  10. Amanda Reed

    When I first heard this news, I was ecstatic, because it meant that I may finally be able to get bariatric surgery. I had been trying for years, unsuccessfully, to lose weight and keep it off. I started looking very seriously at bariatric options but then decided to give changing my diet one more go. I decided to check out low carb recipes online, and discovering that there are about a million new recipes helped me make the decision to try again. I had tried LC back in 04, and failed miserably because I couldn’t live without foods like pizza and donuts. Well now there are tons of recipes for those things! So I joined an LC group on FB and found out that I’d been doing it wrong last time, low carb and high protein, when I needed high fat. That scared me a bit (eating high fat), until someone suggest I watch Fat Head and check out this site. Mind = blown.

    Now I realize that my fat isn’t the disease, I suppose what we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the disease! And I’ve also made the decision that surgery is not for me. Frankly, I think eating LCHF is easier. I’ve since changed my entire family over to LCHF. I’ve watched the documentary with my kids and with my husband, and continued to research, reading up on the Wheat Belly website. It’s mind boggling what the USDA, CSPI and the pharmaceutical companies along with B.G. have done to us in the name of a buck. Jerks.

    Thanks for outing them. I wish the entire world would watch this documentary with an open mind and an open heart.

    Reply
  11. Amanda Reed

    When I first heard this news, I was ecstatic, because it meant that I may finally be able to get bariatric surgery. I had been trying for years, unsuccessfully, to lose weight and keep it off. I started looking very seriously at bariatric options but then decided to give changing my diet one more go. I decided to check out low carb recipes online, and discovering that there are about a million new recipes helped me make the decision to try again. I had tried LC back in 04, and failed miserably because I couldn’t live without foods like pizza and donuts. Well now there are tons of recipes for those things! So I joined an LC group on FB and found out that I’d been doing it wrong last time, low carb and high protein, when I needed high fat. That scared me a bit (eating high fat), until someone suggest I watch Fat Head and check out this site. Mind = blown.

    Now I realize that my fat isn’t the disease, I suppose what we’ve been brainwashed to believe is the disease! And I’ve also made the decision that surgery is not for me. Frankly, I think eating LCHF is easier. I’ve since changed my entire family over to LCHF. I’ve watched the documentary with my kids and with my husband, and continued to research, reading up on the Wheat Belly website. It’s mind boggling what the USDA, CSPI and the pharmaceutical companies along with B.G. have done to us in the name of a buck. Jerks.

    Thanks for outing them. I wish the entire world would watch this documentary with an open mind and an open heart.

    Reply

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