Rethinking Obesity: From Disability Debates to DIY Health Wins

Obesity is a critical health issue with severe consequences, such as premature death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that 78.6 million adult Americans are obese, with childhood obesity quickly becoming a significant problem. Instead of labeling obesity as a disability, some countries are resorting to behavior modification and support for cost-effective answers.

The Frightening Reality

The CDC discloses that the 35% of American adults who are obese suffer from increased medical bills. In 2008, the medical expenses of an obese individual were roughly $1,500 more annually compared to someone of average weight. Obese individuals are at a higher risk of developing severe obesity-related diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and specific cancers.

Is Obesity Now a Disability?

The European Justice Court (EJC) recently ruled that obesity should fall under disability law. The decision was made after an obese man in Denmark was fired due to his weight. The EJC states that obesity should be considered a disability if being obese “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.” Although the ruling is binding for all European Union member nations, the United States is taking a different approach that lowers costs while empowering the patient.

Behavioral Counseling Approach

The leading cause of obesity is self-induced behavior, which can be cured and prevented by lifestyle adjustments and behavioral modifications. New research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) revealed that “Intensive behavioral counseling can induce clinically meaningful weight loss.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) kicked off testing a weight-counseling initiative in 2011 to help reduce obesity and its associated diseases. The focus was on more than a dozen 15-minute in-person sessions per person over six months. The weight loss after six months for the intervention group ranged from 0.5 lb to 14.5 lbs, with the largest improvement seen in those who also reduced caloric intake and walked more than 150 minutes per week alongside behavior therapy.

While the research demonstrates that “intensive behavioral counseling can induce clinically meaningful weight loss,” only a few primary care physicians provide this type of care, as most do not have the time. The research also shows, however, that various trained professionals can offer such counseling in person or via phone.

Change Your Mind to Change Your Weight

Healthcare professionals agree that obesity is not a disease but is, in fact, a condition resulting from continually overeating and a lack of physical activity. The challenge lies in altering old habits and self-perceptions, as well as beliefs about personal health and control.

Numerous solutions exist to help individuals reframe their beliefs to change their actions and choices, such as the Sedona Method, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), and self-help books and lectures. While these options may produce results for some, others may require additional help.

As shown in the JAMA article, patients can receive support in behavior therapy sessions. If a doctor does not provide such services, patients may seek out therapists or even friends and family members to support them during moments of weakness.

Life can be challenging for obese individuals, but they can improve their overall health and quality of life by finding a path they resonate with and seeking support along the way.