Thursday, 3 January 2019

Obesity is a disease, claim health experts

The Royal College of Physicians has called for obesity to be classified as a disease. This is yet another example of the health industry's attempts to medicalise everything. It is equally yet another example of the elite's desire to make words mean whatever they want them to mean.

The Royal College of Physicians' rationale for classifying obesity as a disease is based on the idea that it has a genetic basis. This is, of course, true. All human conditions have a genetic basis: they would not exist if there was no genetic basis. If you did not have the genetic basis for breathing, you would not be able to breathe - and so on. There is a genetic basis to all life, and to all the forms it takes both in terms of species and in terms of individuals. Claiming that something has a genetic basis says nothing. To assert that obesity has a genetic basis is nothing more that a sciency sounding tautology.

In 1980 ten percent of the British adults were obese. Today, the figure is thirty percent. The increase is not due to some (mysterious) change in the genetic make up of the British people. It is due entirely to changes in behaviour. The rise in obesity is directly correlated with changes in diet and decreasing levels of physical activity. The fact is that we live in an obesogenic environment. Work is far less physically demanding than it used to be. Travel is much more likely to be a non-phyiscal activity. Much leisure time is spent watching screens. Foods are cheap and plentiful. Corporations spend billions marketing foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. People consume calories that they do not use and those unnecessary calories are converted into fat: a process that inevitably over time leads to over-weight and ultimately obesity.

To describe this process as a disease is to seriously abuse the language. This abuse of the language runs the risk of encouraging people to think that the condition is not a result on their behaviour, but an unfortunate affliction over which they have no control. It denies agency and disempowers people. The desire to classify obesity as a disease is doubtless well meaning, but it is dishonest, false and risks making the problem worse by inculcating a sense of fatalism in people who are obese or at risk of becoming obese.

The problem of the rise in the prevalence of obesity is not a medical problem. It is a social problem. It stems from the way society is organised. As such, the solution is not to medicalise obesity, but to introduce social policies that promote a healthier lifestyle by removing, or at least reducing, the obesogenic aspects of the environment.

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