Obesity is Not a Curable Condition
This article originally appeared in the January 2, 2015 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
This is in response to the Dec. 29 editorial “Obesity as disability.” Obesity is not a “curable condition.” Class 3 (severe) obesity affects about 6 percent of U.S. adults. Anyone who has severe obesity or works with people who have severe obesity knows that this chronic disease is relentless. Surgical weight loss treatment can produce the most dramatic health benefits for people with severe obesity, but it only makes obesity a manageable, not curable condition. Even after losing a great deal of weight following surgery, many patients will still have a body mass index in the range of obesity, and relapses are common. We have no cures yet for the damage that obesity causes to one’s metabolism and nervous system.
Obesity is more complex than “eating less and exercising more.” Diet and exercise regimens are certainly a foundation for any prevention or treatment program. But in study after study, the results are consistent. Just like in diabetes, diet and exercise help manage the condition but do not cure the problem.
Obesity is not “usually the result of individual decisions.” Among family studies, approximately 50 percent of the risk of obesity can be inherited. Compare that to 25 percent to 56 percent heritability for breast cancer or 34 percent to 53 percent heritability for heart disease and you will realize that obesity is not a simple matter of choice. Of course, people with obesity — just like people with any other chronic disease — can make choices that will improve their health and reduce the impact of their disease.
Discriminating against people with a disability arising from obesity does not “encourage self-discipline.” A tremendous amount of research demonstrates clearly that bias and discrimination against people with obesity is rampant. It makes it more likely — not less — that a person’s obesity will worsen.
Finally, the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act are not reserved solely for “unfortunate victims of fate.” People wind up with disabilities for many reasons, including mistakes that cannot be undone. The purpose of the ADA is to ensure that people with disabilities can remain employed and productive, free from arbitrary discrimination.
If severe obesity causes a physical impairment, like needing a special seating or a wheelchair, discrimination in employment is illegal. What matters is professional skill and performance.
No one chooses to have a disability. Every human being deserves respect and dignity.
— Dr. Robert Kushner, director, Obesity Action Coalition, clinical director, Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago
— Theodore Kyle, Pittsburgh, chairman, Obesity Action Coalition Board of Directors
— Joseph Nadglowski, Tampa, CEO, Obesity Action Coalition
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