Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Should Obesity Be a ‘Disease’?

Obesity is a crucial public health issue with significant medical, psychological, economic and social consequences, and there is no simple response to it. Obviously, the prevention and management of obesity need to target its complex and multifaceted causes.
But knowing that fact doesn’t necessarily lead to the right policies. Indeed, this sort of nuanced approach was a goal of the A.M.A.’s decision to label obesity a disease. As Patrice Harris, an A.M.A. board member, noted, “Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue.”
However, research suggests that in targeting this epidemic, it is misguided to paint the problem in the broad strokes of a single definition like “disease”.   Rather, an interdisciplinary perspective is needed. In addition to understanding the medical costs and benefits of public health care decisions and policies, we must examine the individual-level psychological ramifications. When medical fields make decisions without considering the psychological consequences, they do so at their own peril, or perhaps more accurately at the peril of the people they most seek to help.
To be fair, any decision that involves an issue that cuts across physiological and psychological conditions will involve complications and trade-offs. This research highlights one of these: Calling obesity a disease may make people feel better about their bodies, but it also may contribute to the maintenance, rather than reduction, of obesity.
Ideally, we would have a public health message that leads to a decrease in self-blame and stigma while at the same time promoting adaptive self-regulation and weight loss — both equally important components of the fight against the obesity epidemic. We've yet to find an answer to this dilemma.  For the full article, please go to:  Association for Psychological Science

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