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Fat is not a disease. Dr Pattie Thomas states that “there is no evidence that fatness, in and of itself, is a disease, a disorder or a symptom.” Dr Pieter Cohen, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance says “if we call obesity a disease, it would mean automatically, a third of Americans are in a diseased state or sick.” The Center of Consumer Freedom Executive Director, Richard Berman, states that “obesity is not a ‘disease’ if it can be cured by taking regular walks and eating less. We need to be careful not to dumb down the definition of the term disease at the expense of taxpayers.” Paul Handel, MD, and vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas says that “if we consider obesity a disease, it implies that individuals have no control over what’s happening, and as a nation and as a culture, we need to commit more of our resources to treating the complications of the weight and obesity problem rather than saying it’s a preventable event that really demands a societal response.” The list of examples goes on and on.
This morning, I was listening to my coworker describe her rough morning of trying to enter through the handicap entrance to use the shorter line meant for people with physical disabilities, only to find that the door was not working and she was forced to physically open the door herself. This same woman scored a temporary handicap tag at this building for her knee; thankfully it expired after 4 months because the space needed to be open for people with real disabilities, not for people who have knee problems solely because they refuse to lose weight. She is one person among many in the building I work in, and in this world, who think being obese means they have a disease and a handicap which entitles them to special treatment.
I fully acknowledge that medical conditions exist that cause a person to gain weight and enter the category of obesity; I am not talking about those people and I sympathize with their struggle. The problem stems from lazy people who don’t care about their bodies. They gain weight, gain some more, and then want to say it’s a disease and want better health care, better accommodations in public, and all the rights and special treatments that are afforded to those with actual disabilities. I find it insulting that a person who can’t resist McDonald’s thinks they are just as disabled as a paraplegic or amputee. Diet and exercise can fix fat, it can’t cure paralysis.
I will agree that there is an obesity epidemic in this nation, but it’s hardly a disease, as it’s easy to avoid with knowledge, self-awareness and self-control. Although late to the party, Cheesecake Factory has finally gotten on board and posted their nutrition facts for their rich and delicious dishes. With the exception of small specialty eateries that are sprinkled here and there, restaurants (sit down and fast food) are very up front with the calorie counts of their dishes, with some like Panera going as far as posting it directly on their large menu board behind the cash registers. With the basic understanding that the average person requires 2000 calories per day, it is clear that consuming more will result in weight gain and consuming less will result in weight loss. You can’t cure cancer this way, yet we are meant to consider obesity as much of a disease as cancer is?
When the argument is made that obesity is not a disease because it is preventable, it obviously doesn’t mean that it is comparable to something serious like HIV, where prevention can mean safe sex and no drug use. The action of unsafe sex leads to contracting a disease, while the action of eating pizza does not lead to obesity. The effect comes from excess; eating two slices and eating an entire pie are very different. It is a gamble to have unprotected sex with an HIV positive person, but there is no gamble in attending a neighborhood cookout, as people do it all the time and aren’t breaking any scales. Food doesn’t equal fat, it is the actions of the individual that result in fat.
This is not about our culture’s definition of beauty and the fact that skinny is what society accepts as a thing of beauty, not cellulite and rolls. It’s not about trying to look like the airbrushed people on magazine covers. This is about the simple fact that being obese is not healthy and that obesity results from a lifestyle choice, not from a disease that is contracted, inherited, or developed. This is about the fact that this country would rather be coddled to and have their surroundings expand along with their waistline rather than get out of their recliner and take steps to become healthy. This is about people looking for an easy fix, a pill to pop or a surgery to request, and the desire to have those things covered by their insurance company due to their “disease.”
Obesity is a mess the individual gets themselves into. When I gained weight after starting work in this building, due to the lack of activity that comes with a desk job and my own lack of care, it was because I got lazy and not because I contracted the fat disease. I controlled my intake and lost weight. When I get careless, I gain weight. Had I given up, I’d be a tub of lard right now and it would be entirely my fault. To blame a fictional disease is to take the responsibility off of myself and to make myself look like a victim. This attitude is one of the many reasons there are so many overweight people in this world; we want to eat and enjoy a leisurely life without taking responsibility for our actions and accepting that we are in control of our physical well being.
The woman I previously mentioned (who has also mentioned getting a scooter so she doesn’t have to walk the hallways) is one of many people I see on a daily basis treating their XXL shirt size as an honest handicap and disease. They use the diabetes and heart conditions they develop as proof that obesity is a disease that brings on other diseases. They wish to be coddled in the same way a truly sick person is coddled, and it needs to stop. There are people out there who have honest and real medical problems that do cause obesity; to say that obesity itself is a disease is doing a disservice to these people who need more help than a reduced diet and a walk around the block.
Even if, for argument’s sake, we say that obesity is truly a disease, it’s still one that is completely preventable and avoidable, curable without medical intervention, and easy to control. If you’re having a Whopper with fries, grab a diet coke instead of a 300 calorie regular soda and make sure your next meal is a salad with lite dressing and minimal toppings. Get off your ass and walk around a bit, be it around your office or a stroll through your neighborhood. No one is wasting time on the guy who smoked three packs a day and now has throat cancer, trying to say his choice to smoke was due to a disease. Why should anyone feel bad for the guy who ate himself into a 48 inch waistline?