Two major news stories broke yesterday. On the surface, they may seem unrelated, but they are actually inextricably linked. I found it quite significant they occurred on the same day.
The American Medical Association announced it will now classify obesity as a disease, potentially changing the way it is treated and how obesity is viewed in our society.
Hours later, James Gandolfini, an actor known maybe as much for his size as his talent, dropped dead of a suspected heart attack.
He was 51.
How, you are asking, are these two events so intricately linked?
Let’s start with the AMA decision.
There is no denying there is an obesity crisis in this country. One-third of Americans are overweight. Obesity is linked to countless diseases, physical problems and health issues. It causes stress and strain, mental struggles, and yes, oftentimes untimely death.
But is it a disease?
Can obesity be cured? We certainly know it can be treated. We know how to treat it: eat better, eat less, and get regular exercise. While there are any number of factors that can contribute to obesity including genetics, emotional issues and other health problems, there is no real “mystery” when it comes to treating it.
Make healthier food choices. Eat less. Move more.
Will changing the way we classify obesity help solve a growing healthcare crisis? There are arguments on both sides of the issue. It could clear the way for more insurance coverage for things like weight loss drugs, surgeries, and potentially even health and fitness programs. Perhaps someday your doctor could prescribe sessions with a Personal Trainer, and your insurance would pay for it.
For those of us who make a living in the health and wellness industry, it certainly opens up some possibilities that could hopefully allow more people access to information and assistance to get them on a path towards health.
Another possible benefit could be a change in the way we as a society view being overweight and obese. Perhaps we will begin to see obesity as a more serious issue. While we know the health hazards of being overweight, as a population more and more of us fall into that category, and that sets a dangerous standard of what is “normal” and accepted. If obesity is a disease, it’s not normal, and it should be taken seriously.
There is concern, however, that this new classification could actually have the opposite effect. Viewing it as a disease may suggest an obese individual does not have control over their condition. It could become an excuse not to do anything about it.
While I think we will have to wait and see what if any changes this new definition of obesity brings about, I personally am skeptical and concerned. Much of the nation’s weight problems are caused by eating too much processed food (and beverages) high in fat and sugar, and not being active enough. Through education and action we can change that. We don’t need to search for a cure, we already have one.
Obesity causes disease. I do not believe it is a disease.
But it is a serious and sometimes fatal condition.
Autopsy results are yet to be released, but the untimely death of actor James Gandolfini at the age of 51 is believed to have been caused by a heart attack.
We don’t yet know if there could be other factors (genetics, drugs and/or alcohol, an underlying condition, etc) but we do know James Gandolfini was overweight. He very likely would have been classified as obese. Medical experts say 51 is young for a first heart attack, let alone a fatal one.
Gandolfini became famous playing a guy who loved to indulge- food, alcohol, sex. Tony Soprano is not unlike so many millions of Americans. Food is a part of who we are. It brings families together, is a way to celebrate culture and heritage, and a way to show love and respect.
When the news of Gandolfini’s sudden death broke, it was nearly impossible for anyone to ignore the obvious. So shocking. So young. So overweight.
Details of his hotel room collapse were just coming out and already the discussion on network news turned to his size. You couldn’t ignore it. Even if it turns out his death was caused by something else, a guy that age and that size could just as easily have died from a heart attack.
Obesity, disease or not, is deadly. It can and does take people we love from us far too soon.
America this is a wake-up call. We have a problem. One so serious our medical experts say it not only leads to disease, it is one. And we need to take action.
James Gandolfini had a lot of life left to live. So do the rest of us. And yet we are choosing to live a lifestyle that threatens to take years- even decades– off our lives.
We know how to change. We don’t need a fancy medical classification or a doctor’s prescription or a diagnosis.
Eat healthier food. Eat less. Move more.
Nurture your body.
We have to change.