A thought provoking question was recently posed by the Globe and Mail: Is it futile to treat obesity? The article quotes a doctor who thinks that because there is such limited success in treating obesity and such a negative emotional burden that comes along with weight loss efforts (and failures) that we should shift our focus to helping patients become more accepting of their size. Another doctor quoted in the article presents the opposing argument: doctors should still be trying to help their patients to become as healthy as possible even if it is often a battle in futility. I think that we need to incorporate both approaches and also treat the real cause of obesity which does not lie with the patient nor the doctor.
If a patient is experiencing negative health issues which can be ameliorated by weight loss then the doctor should clearly be suggesting that they should lose weight and providing them with necessary tools to do so. Now, as the article says, benefits from weight loss can be seen with as little as a 5% loss of body weight. We’re not saying everyone has to go out and lose 100 pounds and start doing fitness modelling. We’re just saying that if you can better manage your diabetes (or stave off development of diabetes), or cholesterol, or blood pressure, etc. then you should probably be advised on how to do so. Especially if the treatment doesn’t involve medications and involves such side effects as: improved mood, better sleep, increased energy, improved mental acuity, etc. At the same time, we need to be more accepting of the fact that health can come at many different sizes and we don’t all have to have washboard abs to be healthy.
That’s the role for the doctor, as I see it. I would also suggest that the tools they provide their patients for weight loss involve other health care professionals such as dietitians (of course!), psychologists, and fitness experts. But, to really treat obesity we need to change the world in which we live. We need to live close enough to our places of employment so that we can easily get to and from work using active transport (i.e. our feet, bikes, skateboards) or at least public transit. We need to stop relying on restaurants and meals “cooked” out of boxes. We need to redesign our environment so that the healthy choice is ALWAYS the easy choice.