Former Tenant Farmer

Are We Taking Obesity Seriously Yet?

To be sure, we are making progress. Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to ask if we are yet taking the chronic disease of obesity seriously. Or are we just playing at it? Writing in The Lancet, Priya Sumithran, Francis Finucane, and Ricardo Cohen suggest we may still be doing more of the latter:

“How we handle obesity in our health systems will depend on our willingness to confront and examine our prejudices and ask ourselves why we hold the treatment of obesity to a different standard than other chronic diseases. For what other disease do we regard treatments as ineffective because they do not fix the societal and environmental issues that contribute to disease prevalence? Do we dismiss the clinical benefits of antihypertensives, statins, or glucose-lowering agents because they do not persist after medication is ceased, or do we recognise this reality as the nature of chronic disease management?”

They tell us the shortages of new obesity medicines are simply an indicator of a wider problem in coping earnestly with obesity.

An Incomplete Recognition

The commentary by Sumithran et al is hardly the only publication to recognize the work we must do for progress in taking obesity seriously. In Obesity Pillars, Ian Patton and colleagues report the results of interviews with 2,506 Canadian adults who have a BMI in the range of obesity, a medical diagnosis of obesity, a history of treatment for obesity, or health impairment due to obesity.

But three quarters of them had never received a diagnosis of obesity and 91% had received no medical treatment for it. Most of them reported that obesity makes managing their other chronic diseases more difficult and they agree obesity itself is a chronic disease.

Despite all of this, an overwhelming majority (78%) of these people still think that obesity is their problem which they must manage on their own. It’s not working, though. Only a third say they’ve had success with this DIY approach to obesity.

Are We Serious?

Considering all the puffery from opportunists in the diet, lifestyle, and wellness industry, these findings are hardly surprising. Undaunted by facts, such businesses stand ready to promise all will be well if people will just follow their golden program. Implicit blame comes at the end when results don’t line up with the false promises.

Certainly self-care and wellness can be a helpful tool for coping with obesity. But it’s no substitute for medical care – no more than it is for cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.

Until we are ready to fully face up to this fact, we will not be ready to take obesity seriously.

Click here for the perspective from Sumithran et al and here for the study by Patton et al.

Former Tenant Farmer, photograph by Dorothea Lange / Wikimedia Commons

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


October 2, 2023