Obesity rates are increasing so rapidly among Americans that last week the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to classify it as a disease. This marks a sea change in how we, as a society, view obesity. It will no longer be simply a matter of willpower and looks, but will be treated as an important health risk that's treated by doctors.
It also means that more than a third of Americans (the current obesity rate) have an illness that requires treatment.
As a result, doctors aren’t the only ones gearing up to see more patients.
Personal trainers and nutritionists also work with obese clients (…er, patients?) looking to lose weight and adopt healthier, more active lifestyles. Some of these professionals hope that the reclassification of obesity will give more Americans the nudge they need to adopt healthier habits.
Meaghan Shea, Education Coordinator at Focus Personal Training Institute, thinks this change will help motivate people where education has failed. “The problem isn't lack of education,” Shea says. “Most people know it's not healthy to have a sedentary lifestyle.”
It's expected that calling obesity a disease will lead to other changes in its treatment. In the past, preventative and wellness care were not covered by insurance, the primary funding source for doctors. Also, since obesity isn't a condition that can be fixed in one or two short appointments (like, say, the flu), it's likely that longer treatment programs will be developed.
Dietician Maria Ankrom says nutritionists are used to taking a less rapid approach to their work because they see clients more frequently.
“Many doctors only have 15 minutes with the patient when they need to address a multitude of issues—weight being just one of them,” says Ankrom. “Dietitians get to spend an entire hour with their patients once a week focusing on diet and nutrition.”
It’s too soon to tell how this change will affect the rates of overweight and obese Americans, but the New York Times’ Well Blog suggests it will change weight from an issue of looks to one of health. This new perspective could encourage people to live more healthy and active lifestyles for the sake of their well-being and longevity. And that can only be a good thing.