What is a disease? According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the second two definitions of "disease" are "2: a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning: SICKNESS, MALADY; 3: a harmful development (as in a social institution)" (Merriam-Webster OnLine, 2003). Definition number two describes how the being is personally affected by a disease, and definition number three describes how society as a whole is affected by a disease. It is recommended that the epidemic of obesity in America be given a disease status to confront this "harmful development" that "impairs normal functioning" in society.
By declaring obesity a disease, American society can face up to obesity as an epidemic in our nation. Just as those with a new disease eventually overcome the denial they harbor within about the reality of the disease, with the support of all parties, the obese in America will be able to overcome their denial in America and take the proper steps to lose the extra pounds. This also puts them in a better position to teach the correct ways to the next generation resulting in a myriad of benefits from a variety of viewpoints.
This paper is written with intention of presentation to a regular board meeting of the American Medical Association (AMA). The group present would include a variety of professionals, ranging from physicians, researchers, business people, governmental representation, and interested special groups including pharmaceutical representation and advocacy groups.
The intent is to persuade the interested parties that obesity should be considered an official disease in order to facilitate support for those seeking treatment, which is only the beginning. By tackling, instead of ignoring, this problem now, the next step is ready to be taken toward improving the physical, as well as emotional and mental, health of the citizens. America can beat obesity before it makes it to the next generation and becomes embedded in American culture as defining of its people. Defining and declaring obesity a disease is the only way to confront the situation on such a mass scale.
Persuade the Scientists
Forty years ago, cigarettes were not considered such a health risk. Kids of any age could purchase a pack of cigarettes, and pregnant women even smoked with babies in their wombs. However, scientific research and development has proven the lethal qualities of cigarettes. From this discovery, political action was taken. Laws concerning the creation, packaging, and sale of cigarettes have forced those consumers to look the dangers right in the face.
This would be similar to what would happen to obesity in America should it be given official disease status. Government could enter the arena and create legislation that determines the parameters of obesity. Once that occurs, great desire, interest, and need becomes apparent in the pharmaceutical industry for treatment of obesity. From this, researchers and scientists should see vast improvements and augmentations in the amount of monetary support given to develop and create innovative drugs and therapies.
Therefore, the determination of obesity as an official disease would be beneficial to those in the science arena.
Persuade the Advocacy Groups
By officially declaring obesity a disease, avenues open for special interests groups to promote their ideas concerning our lifestyle, culture, and way of life in America.
According to an article from American Family Physician, "the increasing prevalence of overweight and obesity reflects changes in society and behaviors over the past 20 to 30 years" (Lyznicki, Young, Riggs, & Davis, 2001). This clear transition in American culture is a warning sign to all concerned to combat the spread of obesity by ignorance and avoidance.
According to Bonnie Liebman, a Nutrition Action representative, "300,000 [people] die from diet-related diseases and a sedentary lifestyle" each year. (Brownell, Liebman, 1998) This is a self-induced condition which advocacy groups such as Nutrition Action have set itself out to combat. People need to put down the fast-food that is clearly unhealthy and embrace a lifestyle filled with fruits and vegetables and other natural products.
If obesity were augmented to the status of an official disease, there would be an immense rise in not only government support but also corporate support as well. As companies turn an intense focus toward community action, an attempt to rekindle the well-being of America would be of great interest. There has already been government pushes for a more fit and healthy America. "A good example is the Shape Up America! Program, which is spearheaded by former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. Its basic message is that the American public should weigh less and exercise more." (Brownell, Liebman, 1998) This is inevitably the mere beginning of such initiatives from the governmental level as obesity weighs on the entire nation to force change in our society. Therefore, the declaration of obesity as an official disease would be of great interest to advocacy groups of a variety of interests.
Persuade the Federal Agencies
As Americans grow from the waistline, the image, integrity, and stability of the American is publicly suffering. "The University of Colorado's James O. Hill, says that if obesity is left unchecked almost all Americans will be overweight within a few generations" which, according to Professor Hill, will result in obesity as "a normal response to the American environment" (Critser, 2000). An unfit and unhealthy society has a grim outlook for the future. Time has come for the authorities to take action for the sake of the future of the nation.
The institutions of America have already begun to show their support for advocating a slimmer, more fit America. "The Internal Revenue Service ruled last year that, for tax purposes, obesity is a disease, allowing Americans for the first time to claim a deduction for some health expenses related to obesity, just as they can for those related to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other illnesses." (Stein, 2003) With such steps being taken by official governmental institutions and the recognition of weight-reduction expenses for tax purposes shows the attitude already possessed by the authorities. The obese public needs to be stimulated to lose weight, and they are now confronted with options that virtually bribe them to shed some pounds. Once the work needed to be put in for success is realized to be less than that of being unhealthy, American society should quickly "snap out of it" and shape up!
Persuade the Insurance Companies
The possibilities in the insurance industry are seemingly endless once obesity is declared a disease. First, a difference would be noticed over an amount of time concerning the incoming claims. The claims would be hefty at first, with the previous generations' current weight-related problems that themselves are covered under insurance. How does it make sense that diseases relating to weight are treated with insurance money but the root of the problem is not focused upon? The folly is clear. Instead of continuously treating sick obese patients, the insurance companies should insist that weight reduction programs be followed. Further coverage should be threatened for failure of goals as well as treatment for treatment of future weight-related illnesses. It appears rather tough; however, this is a serious issue. It must be dealt with firmly.
Another potential future benefit from declaring obesity as a disease for the insurance industry is the cost of premiums paid by the insured. Often, insurance premiums are calculated using a variety of factors. If obesity is considered a real disease, those people who are categorized as "obese" by a measure of Body Mass Index (BMI) should be charged a higher premium than someone with a normal BMI. ("General consensus exists for an indirect measure of body fatness, called the weight-for-height index or body mass index (BMI). The BMI is an easily obtained and reliable measurement for overweight and obesity and is defined as a person's weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of the person's height (in meters)" (Lyznicki, Young, Riggs, & Davis, 2001).)
The obese person will likely cost more money in the long run as a result of weight-related illnesses. It would be considered similar to a "good driver" discount to not be officially obese. This could provide an incentive to those who want to lose weight, often resulting in healthier people and fewer insurance payouts. For a variety of reasons, it would be a positive move for obesity to be considered a disease for the insurance companies.
Persuade the Drug Makers
Pharmaceutical firms and research companies would benefit most of all from an official declaration of obesity as a disease. First of all, the possibilities for treatment would be demanded to increase. With a demand from society for new and improved methods of treatment of obesity comes more work for pharmacists and salespeople working in this field. Sales would drastically increase as America attempts to…