So now obesity is a disease, huh? As I first wrote last July (“Obesity isn’t a disease, but it still sucks”), I can’t say I agree.
Yes, my declaration carries substantially less weight than the American Medical Association’s, because, you know, they’re the big market movers in the disease business. But that’s how it strikes me.
Obviously, obesity is a health negative, a condition that’s statistically related to other health negatives, and I can’t imagine anyone liking it besides. But does that make it a disease? I say it's a symptom, a result of a number of currents in modern life.
Of course, I do consider food addiction, defined as a biochemical sensitivity triggered by some substances in some people, to be a disease, but that’s different. There are obese people who aren’t food addicts, and there are food addicts who aren’t obese — think anorexics or bulimics, among others. People often conflate the two, but shouldn’t.
Consider alcoholism and chronic drunkenness: There’s considerable overlap, but you can be an alcoholic who doesn’t drink, and you can be drunk often without being an alcoholic. Is chronic drunkenness, though surely a sad, unhealthful state, a disease? I wouldn’t have said so.
Sidestepping the question of “is or isn’t,” a friend in Britain asked me via Twitter yesterday if any good could come of the AMA’s decision, and it’s worth conjecturing. Obesity advocate Morgan Downey thinks so. In the New York Times Tuesday, he said “I think you will probably see from this physicians taking obesity more seriously, counseling their patients about it,” and perhaps so.
But are you kidding me? Obesity is rampant in the world, and now doctors are going to take it seriously? If they haven’t yet, I’m not sure I see why this is going to do it.