“[Obesity] is the only disease that I’m familiar with that you can cure by regularly taking long walks and keeping your mouth shut,” the Center for Consumer Freedom told the Washington Post last week. Reprinting that quote, two more major newspapers — the Chicago Tribune and the Denver Post — announced their opposition to the recent decision to allow Medicare to cover anti-obesity treatments.
In its lead editorial, the Tribune argued:
[T]he Medicare decision is worrisome because it could send a message to millions of overweight Americans, adults and children. It suggests that there’s a greater power at work, that they’re not at fault for their increasing rotundity. It’s a disease, right? That label suggests something that is largely outside the sphere of human intervention. That’s hard to swallow.
By successfully lobbying Medicare to redefine obesity, big drug companies changed the debate about obesity — and the “solutions” to it. Not only does the change detract from the definition of “disease,” but it also takes weight loss out of our hands and rests it with the pharmaceutical industry, which largely bankrolled the campaign to redefine obesity in the first place. The Denver Post agrees that defining obesity as a disease sets a dangerous precedent: “We were glad to see that the government was not classifying obesity as a disease — so far as the research shows, that isn’t the case.”
A story in today’s USA Today explains how some dieters experience an epiphany: “Nutritionists say those who lost the most usually have a ‘wow’ or ‘light bulb’ moment. Something happens to make them decide that they’re going to take control of their weight.”
That’s exactly what happened to Tommy Thompson. When he came to Washington, he decided that he ought to “look the part” of the Secretary of Health and Human Services and lose some weight. How’d he do it? He started exercising more, and fifteen pounds later he is still preaching the same advice. Perhaps the bureaucrats at HHS should take some of it: “It’s not rocket science. It’s less calorie intake and more exercise and you’re going to improve your health.” And while that’s not a silver bullet, it certainly separates obesity from real diseases.