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TALKBACK


Kath Hudson • Journalist • Health Club Management EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT . . .


Obesity as a disease I


n June, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to classify obesity as a disease


One in three Americans are obese, meaning they’re now classified as having a disease.


in its own right, rather than simply the precursor to other diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. This means nearly one in three Americans have a medical condition that requires treatment. This new ‘disease’ classifi cation means


that people can seek help for obesity itself, and also means that medical professionals will be remunerated for their time spent treating obesity. According to a recent study by Duke


University, treatment of obesity-related diseases already costs US$150bn a year in the States – a fi gure that’s expected to rise to US$550bn in the


Was the American Medical Association right with this decision – and where will it lead?


next 20 years. Although the fi nancial impact of these lifestyle diseases has long been acknowledged, recognition of obesity as a disease could result in greater investment by government and the private sector to both develop and reimburse obesity treatments. But could it also lead to a rush of


drugs to market, over-prescribing, more surgical procedures and people handing over responsibility for their lifestyles to the medical profession?


Will this new classifi cation


mean a rise in status for the fi tness industry, with healthcare providers seeking to work more closely with them to prescribe exercise? Or will it take it further away, confi ning treatment to the medical sector? Might


people increasingly expect the solution to come from a pill from the doctor rather than having to get active? Obesity is certainly a complicated


subject and signifi cantly more research is needed to help with its treatment. A study by Memorial University in Newfoundland, for example, found that 5 per cent of the population could be addicted to food. The UK’s NICE declined to comment,


but will other countries follow the AMA’s lead? We ask our panel...


DO YOU AGREE WITH THE AMA, AND SHOULD THE UK FOLLOW SUIT? EMAIL US: HEALTHCLUB@LEISUREMEDIA.COM


ARDIS D. HOVEN AMA • President


community tackles this issue. It also elevates the importance of developing new approaches to prevent and manage obesity. Ultimately, the AMA’s House of Delegates voted for this


“R


classification because we believe it will encourage parents and physicians to have candid conversations about their weight, and other key health indicators like blood pressure and blood sugar. Physicians previously had conversations with patients about


treating obesity’s health complications, but this designation helps physicians to talk about obesity itself, as well as decide an appropriate course of action. While healthy eating and physical activity are important for preventing obesity, for some people this is not enough and medication or surgery is needed. The excess body fat indicative of obesity doesn’t just take


up space in the body – it’s metabolically active, producing hormones and other substances that may impair a number of normal body functions, including fertility and the regulation of appetite and metabolism. We’re hopeful this policy will emphasise the seriousness of obesity and its health implications. This classification may also encourage more investment to study and limit this disease.





ecognising obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical


DR ARYA SHARMA Chair in obesity research & management • University of Alberta


people who live with excess weight and the illnesses and disabilities related to it. Obesity is viewed by governments, healthcare professionals,


“O


media and individuals as being largely caused by laziness and over-consumption: a stigmatising over-simplification of a complex health problem. If obesity is viewed as a disease, we can perhaps create a world where health professionals are remunerated for providing treatment services, where people with obesity can seek medical assistance with confidence, and where public and private funders will prioritise the provision of obesity prevention, treatment resources and related research. In terms of involving fitness professionals, however, in many


countries they are still not licensed or members of self-regulated organisations that ensure service standards and competencies. Medical training and residency or medical internship programmes within the health system are generally not part of their training. So, while I support the importance of exercise in weight management, the current training, licensing, regulation and professional standards of fitness professionals is a long way off from that of other regulated health professionals.


” 32 Read Health Club Management online at healthclubmanagement.co.uk/digital November/December 2013 © Cybertrek 2013


besity needs to be medicalised in order to help the millions of


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