Following the American Medical Association recognizing obesity as a disease last week, the American Lung Association followed suit by announcing that coal mining, linked to various respiratory problems, is also now a disease. The ALA announcement was quickly matched by a release from the National Optometric Association classifying reading as a disease because it causes eye strain.
Look, I get it. With about one-third of Americans being identified as “obese' under current medical guidelines, something clearly needs to be done. But this is just silly. Obesity isn't a disease. It is, at best, a condition — albeit one that can hugely impact one's overall health.
The vote from the AMA House of Delegates — which went against a recommendation from its own Council on Science and Public Health — carries no legal weight, but could influence how insurance companies handle reimbursements for obesity drugs and treatment.
Critics of the move contend that it removes any sense of personal responsibility from those who fail to eat well and exercise, and could lead to taxpayers subsidizing trucker speed or Weight Watchers meal plans, because what would a criticism be without hyperbole.
Of course, obesity isn't just for the lazy. It can also manifest as part of a far more pernicious condition that might go unnoticed and unchecked if physicians focus on the symptom rather than the cause, much like trying to repaint the blackened and flame-licked walls of a house, while it's still on fire.
Despite the fact that a good percentage of Middle America is admittedly fairly sedentary and stuffed to the eyeballs with preservatives, opponents of the new classification easily see this leading to the lifestyle equivalent of the deathbed repentance, where the sins of too many Cheetos and Quarter-Pounders can be absolved with medical intervention at the back end, rather than up-front education on the dangers of saturated fats and other processed garbage that most of us ignore for a quick, cheap meal.
That includes me, by the way. I'm skinny, but I'm not healthy by any stretch. The problem is that eating well costs money — money that most of us just don't have. And I even have access to tons of healthy stuff; I just can't afford to eat it every day. Meanwhile, if I've got five bucks in my pocket, I know I can get a “meal' from Wendy's that will, if nothing else, keep me alive. But there's no way that crap is healthy.
There is also the problem of the body mass index, the standard and horribly flawed tool used to calculate where a person's “normal weight' should land based solely on a height/weight measurement that takes absolutely nothing else into consideration.
According to the instant BMI calculator on the National Institutes of Health web page, for instance, a 5-foot 8-inch tall adult of either gender weighing 165 pounds is “overweight.' Add another 32 pounds and you've tipped the scales to “obese.'
So where does a 6-foot-tall bodybuilder fall on that scale? At age 50? At age 21? How about Peter Dinklage? Peter Mayhew?
I'm not saying that being severely overweight isn't a good indicator for other potential health problems, which has been pretty well demonstrated by this point. A large-bellied buddy of mine who recently had a heart attack, for instance, was told by his doctor that he is a prime candidate for heart disease because he's “old and fat.'
Fair enough. But he doesn't come close to being what I would call “obese' and there are at least a dozen other factors to consider before lumping him into that category. The BMI, and therefore the medical world in general, would disagree. So now, under AMA guidelines, he is diseased.
Granted, most of America could probably stand to lose a few pounds, but maybe we should be focusing on developing new ways of diagnosing and treating the problem from a preventative stance before we, you know, go ahead and declare one-third of America medically ill.