business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported yesterday on the debate taking place in scientific, business and legal circles over whether obesity should be officially classified as a disease. Such a classification, could take much of the stigma away from being severely overweight, make it easier to get treatment, and change the way insurance coverage deals with the obese. Opponents of such a move say that obesity is just a risk factor, not a disease and that classifying it as such would actually divert resources from legitimate diseases.

Our position in this matter is that obesity seems to have crossed the line from being a simple cosmetic or psychological problem, and that classifying it as a disease probably makes sense. But to us the more important issue is getting away from finger pointing; parents, teachers, the medical establishment, the food industry, the government - all have a role to play in dealing with this serious issue. Sure, it is an issue of personal responsibility…but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be multi-layered support systems in place to help people who are suffering from serious weight problems.

This story - and our commentary - prompted a lot of email during the past 24 hours…so we thought we'd give the issue an airing in a section all its own. Especially since almost nobody agreed with us.

MNB user Bob McMath wrote:

If people think that obesity is really a disease and it should be treated that way, just wait until we get the newest rate increases in health insurance. Among other factors as we already know, people hop from one "answer" or fad to another, and even after losing weight, they gain it back and do something again to bring it down. Usually when one has a disease, there is, hopefully, a cure. Personal responsibility is the only cure for obesity, couples with common sense. Tie obesity into health issues which the insurance companies will have to support in trying to combat it, and our health system will break down under the burden. Yes, the results already burden the insurance question, but making them responsible for footing the bill trying to combat it and nobody will be able to afford insurance! Period!

Good point.

But can we ask a question about the people who lose weight and then gain it back? Couldn't you call it a kind of remission, followed by a relapse?

MNB user Joe Potts wrote:

We all control 100% of the calories that we ingest and of the time that we spend exercising. If I carry too many pounds, it's my choice, but not a disease.

Another MNB user wrote:

Obesity is not a disease or the result of any addiction it is simply the result of poor choices, poor food and lifestyle choices. Those like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig stand to benefit hugely when medical insurance starts to pay for their products. Do you think the lobbyists are involved?

Once again the push is on the shift the cost of largely self-inflicted problems to everyone else. Obesity of itself is not a disease, it is a condition brought on by the free choice to overeat.

MNB user Al Kober wrote:

I need to disagree with you. Blaming the obesity problem on food manufacturers is like blaming the ladder manufactures if people fall off it, or blaming the manufacturer of a bicycle because it didn't come equipped with a light when someone rides at night and run into a car. Misuse of many good things can produce bad results Just because it is there or possible, doesn't mean we all have to do it. The current spirit of this age "it is not my fault" syndrome, has gone far enough and it is time for people to become personally responsible for their own actions, even when it comes to eating.

Please understand, we're not blaming the problem on manufacturers. We do think that companies that have sold fat-laden products have culpability, but certainly the final responsibility lies with the people actually doing the eating.

But some people can't help themselves. (Could this be considered an emotional disorder, as opposed to a physical one? Wouldn’t that still qualify as a kind of disease?) All we're arguing for are broad and coordinated efforts on all fronts to deal with both the causes and effects of obesity…thinking that if this helps the customer, it also helps retailers and manufacturers.

Another MNB user wrote:

Obesity is not a “disease”…it is a product of confusion and misinformation. Can people lose weight? Yes…

People do not have to helplessly die of obesity as they would die of a real disease such as cancer. Messages about healthy nutrition are hopelessly mixed. What “healthy” guidelines should an obese person (or a food manufacturer) follow? Is it:
The LOW FAT message? You still eat lots of carbs and protein
The LOW CARBOHYDRATE message? Cut back on carbs! Fat and protein are ok
The GOVERNMENT STANDARDS message? Follow the food pyramid and you’ll be ok…wait…no! We’ve changed our minds. What should this dang thing look like?...
So which message do we choose? Which message should an obese person choose? Which message will the litigious choose to hang their food manufacturers on?

I agree that obesity is epidemic but it is reversible. If it were to be classified as a disease, I think patients will medicate the problem rather than making the changes that lead to their own wellness.

Yet another MNB user wrote:

The thought that all of society and the institutions that support it including government, health providers, and insurance companies, should be a safety net for those who cannot resist Big Mac's and doughnuts is ridiculous. Everyone will bear the cost if obesity is considered a disease and it would detract from the focus and funding for real diseases. I am sympathetic to those that are overweight because for me it takes great discipline as I was overweight at one time. This seems to be more of an educational and cultural issue. Society needs more education, information (on packaging and restaurant menus), and healthy alternatives. The awareness and publicity that this issue is receiving right now is a step in the right direction because public demand for healthy alternatives will create a supply of new products and services. To simplify the issue, society needs to exercise, eat a balanced diet, and we need the information and alternatives to make the right choice.

And another MNB user wrote:

Your comment that manufactures and retailers are "wrong" to think the obesity problem is not their problem may be true, but it is troubling.

Obesity is the manufacturers' and retailers' problem in the sense that consumers can vote with their wallets and start buying healthier foods - manufacturers and retailers of unhealthy foods would then have the problem of declining sales. However, it is not their problem that people become obese because they don't exercise the good sense to limit their intake of unhealthy foods.

I'm not sure that anyone eating a bag of cheese puffs or a fast food burger really thinks that their food choice is the healthiest option. Manufacturers and retailers have not duped them into believing that the road to healthy living is in that cheese puffs bag. While this may sound absurd, I imagine that I could reach an unhealthy state if I ate nothing but carrots - but no one is going to start a "stop the carrot farmers campaign." If I don't have the good sense to diversify my diet and eat foods in moderation, why should carrot farmers be held responsible for the fact that I don't eat properly or
exercise self-control? Lets encourage education on diet and obesity issues - lets not attempt to "fix" the problem of low/no self-control by regulating food providers.

And finally, in our favorite email on the subject, one MNB user wrote:

I am stuck on reading your articles everyday...can I write off my habit as "Morning News Beat" disease?

Thanks for the sentiment…though we're not sure you can get insurance coverage for that.
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