There has been an explosion of weight loss pills and weight loss programs into the market over the last several months. This expansion of the medical weight loss industry will certainly continue a break neck speeds due to the AMA’s declaration of obesity as a disease.
The Obesity Epidemic
There is no doubt that obesity is a problem. Obesity rates have steadily climbed year after year throughout the country. It is now estimated that at least one third of all Americans are obese. Obesity has always been viewed as a risk factor for other diseases such as type-2 diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndromes. As a result, a lot of health care dollars have been spent on obesity related problems. A 2012 report by lobby group Trust for America’s Health said obesity cost the U.S. healthcare system up to $210 billion a year! Well over 20% of our total healthcare spending as a nation is devoted to the cost of obesity. Certainly new weight loss pills and programs that will now be covered by insurance carriers will only lead to continued skyrocketing costs.
In June of 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity to be – not just a risk factor but – a full fledged disease. Interestingly, this decision was in opposition the AMA’s own Council on Science and Public Health. This council studied the issue for a year and recommended against defining obesity as a disease because it is unclear how to diagnose it as a disease. They cited problems with using body mass index, BMI, as the indicator for obesity. However, in just one afternoon, by the decision of a relatively small group of medical doctors, one third of all Americans now have a new disease. That is over 105 million American men, women and children who can now be targeted for shiny, brand new drugs and other fancy, expensive medical treatments for this new disease. The day before, these obese people may or may not have been considered healthy; however, today, they are now sick. They have a disease that is out of their control.
Why Was This Decision Made?
Certainly, AMA member physicians voted this way (and against the Council on Science and Public Health) in order to open up new avenues to discuss and treat obesity.
“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” Dr. Patrice Harris, a member of the association’s board, said in a statement.
Morgan Downey, an advocate for obese people and publisher of the online Downey Obesity Report commented:
“Companies marketing the products will be able to take this to physicians and point to it and say, ‘Look, the mother ship has now recognized obesity as a disease.’ ”
Medical doctors are generally not comfortable talking to patients about lifestyle issues. With obesity now categorized as a disease, doctors no longer have to deal with this uncomfortable situation. They can simply diagnose a new disease, prescribe a pill and monitor the patient’s condition from a completely sterile medical standpoint. Of course, all medical conditions are only managed and rarely are they ever resolved. So, medical doctors do not have to concern themselves with consistently advising the patient lose weight. They simply have to document the condition and medicate the disease. From a medical standpoint, it is much easier this way. Lifestyle conditions do not fit neatly into the medical treatment box. Obesity as a disease fits perfectly.
Of course medical doctors are not the only ones to blame. The typical medical patient does not favor taking personal responsibility for his own health either. If told that he must eat less and exercise more, he is not likely to be a very compliant patient. On the other hand, if he is told that he is sick and he has a disease, then it is not his fault. Correcting the problem is now outside of his ability. He is then given a prescription medication that his insurance company will now pay for, then he is off to the pharmacy to follow the doctor’s orders.
Is obesity a disease that is out of the individual’s control or is it a result of lifestyle choices over time? Does obesity require medical intervention or can it be changed with lifestyle modification? Regardless of the AMA’s declaration, obesity is not a disease – it is a lifestyle choice. There is no medical cause of obesity that can be effectively treated. There is, however, a lifestyle cause of obesity and this can be addressed with weight loss programs focused on lifestyle. As Dr. Shirie Leng, M.D. stated: “The thing about causes is, if you can treat the cause, the disease goes away.” Regardless of the condition or disease, it is vital to find and correct the CAUSE.
The Myth of Weight Loss Pills
Traditionally, most weight loss pills attempt to modify hunger by chemically altering the function of a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. This has proven to be quite risky and most of these types of drugs are fraught with dangerous side effects. Many fail to even make it to the market due to excessively dangerous, sometimes deadly, side effects seen in the test subjects. Those that do make it are often pulled in relatively short order when the negative side effects are demonstrated in the “market” (people taking the drug).
“Imagine a weight-loss drug that not only helps you shed a few pounds, but does so without asking you to diet or exercise,” opens the article in Reuters about one the newest weight loss pills. Zafgen Inc. is hoping that their new drug, beloranib, will be the next blockbuster ($1 billion+) drug. While most weight loss pills focus on appetite control by modifying brain function, this drug takes a more physical approach. Zafgen states that beloranib is designed to make the body produce less fat and burn off the excess as fuel. Let’s assume that this wonder drug will work as advertised and will only have negligible side effects, which, of course, will be setting medical history! Is it safe to assume that we will improve one’s health and well-being by encouraging them to continue to consume copious amounts of cheeseburgers and fries and pizza and ice cream all while never exerting any efforts toward physical exercise? Of course not. But then, this drug is not designed to make an obese person healthy. It is merely designed to chemically cover up the problem by medically managing the condition. Ultimately this drug is designed to make billions of dollars for Zafgen Inc. while allowing the patient feel as if they are doing the right thing for their “disease”. That is why weight loss pills are a myth.
Even if this new wonder drug is far safer than all previous weight loss pills, it still does absolutely nothing to address the lifestyle CAUSE of the patient’s condition. The patient’s health will not be improved but our health care costs will continue to climb ever higher.
While there is much controversy over labeling obesity a disease, it is clear to all that obesity is a real problem. However, it is not a medical problem that can be chemically or surgically corrected. It is lifestyle problem. The U.S. health care system, entrenched in the medical model of disease treatment, is not equipped to successfully deal with lifestyle conditions.
Obesity is a LIFESTYLE problem and the solution is adopting a wellness lifestyle that feeds the body copious amounts of nutrients and delivers sufficient oxygen to the cells of the body. This lifestyle supercharge your metabolism and drives your hormones to burn fat and build healthy muscle. In my next article, I will address wellness-based weight loss programs that naturally heal the cause of obesity. There is hope for those struggling with obesity; however, it simply is not a problem that can be fixed with weight loss pills.
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