Obesity: Not a term to be thrown around lightly

By Sheryl Lynn Carvajal

Merriam-Webster defines disease as “a condition…that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.”  It would seem appropriate now that the American Medical Association declared obesity as an official disease earlier this year.

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As nutrition students, this is big news for us.  From one standpoint, this official declaration may be a step in the right direction, leading physicians and healthcare professionals to be more proactive in educating patients about obesity.  It raises awareness of the seriousness of obesity in this country, which has been rapidly increasing over the past 30 years.  The declaration also clears up misconceptions about obesity’s development, pointing out the role that genetics play individual health.

With healthcare being the current hot topic of conversation throughout the United States, obesity becoming an official disease raises the prospect of increased management, prevention, and education.

However, there are two sides to every coin.  While some may view this new development as a step up in the health and nutrition arena, other issues arise.  With technology continually advancing, self-diagnosing is as easy as a few taps on a smartphone, or a few clicks on a computer.  If someone has a stomachache, WebMD tells he or she that simple indigestion may actually be irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, diverticulitis, etc.

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This trend of self-diagnosis is formally referred to as medicalization, and had led to effects such as increase of emergency department visit.  Especially for non-emergent cases, this increases healthcare costs.  Obesity becoming a legitimate disease could be in line with the medicalization of unrelated signs or symptoms.  While health and medicine are in continuous flux, I can’t help but to think back of the obesity rate in the US 30 years ago, and how much it has changed since then.

Does declaring obesity a disease give us hope for the future in reversing the trend?  Or does it give justification for the declining health status of America?  There are always two sides to every story.

Sheryl Lynn Carvajal is a second year Nutrition Communication student.  A beach girl at heart, she is sad that summer is over, but excited for the leaves to change and is enjoying the best part of fall – football season!

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