Obesity In America

The morning of June 19 we learned that the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest physicians’ group in America, had declared that obesity is a disease.

We ended the day with the sad news of the sudden heart attack and death of 260-pound actor James Gandolfini, three-time Emmy Award-winning star of the HBO series The Sopranos.
He was only 51 years old.
What a painful way of reminding us that, yes, obesity in America, and worldwide, is a disease.

AMA – Obesity is a disease

The AMA’s declaration can spur a lot of important action. Its recognition of obesity as a disease:

  • Sends a strong message to physicians nationwide to make prevention and control of obesity a priority.
  • Could lead to payment for physicians who want to spend time talking to patients about healthy eating and exercise but often don’t because it’s time not currently reimbursed by insurance plans.
  • Gives more clout to efforts to have obesity interventions paid for by insurers. Currently, most forms of insurance do not cover obesity alone; obesity must be connected with a co-morbidity such as diabetes and heart disease. But tragically for many people, possibly our Sopranos star, terrible things happen before any co-morbidity diagnoses have been made.
  • Could lead to full payment by insurance plans for scientifically proven lifestyle-change programs like the Pritikin Longevity Center.
  • Could increase funding for future obesity research.
  • Could lead to legislation that helps build a society that supports, rather than thwarts, people’s efforts to live healthier. Our culture is one of sedentary living; high-calorie-dense foods; images on TV and elsewhere that bombard us with junk food; and neighborhoods, particularly poorer ones, with few facilities that encourage physical activity and meager availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Could help shift government subsidies, which currently fuel the production of cheap processed foods, to agriculture focused on healthy food choices.

Bottom line, notes cardiologist and Pritikin Medical Director Ron Scheib, MD: “There’s much we can do to combat obesity just as in years past we made changes that combated smoking, such as restrictions on cigarette advertising, taxes on cigarettes, and banning of smoking in public places. The result? Smoking rates have fallen from more than 40% of the U.S. population in the 1960s to 18% today.”

Obesity, BMI

Obesity for adults is defined as having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 or higher. BMI measures body fat based on your weight and height.

Being overweObesity, Disease and BMIight or obese dramatically increases one’s risk of almost every chronic disease, including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, many cancers, stroke, gallstones, liver disease, osteoarthritis, gout, erectile dysfunction, and sleep apnea.

One downside of labeling obesity as a disease, argue some, is that it may send a message to the one-third of Americans who are obese that they are “ill” or “sick,” and that the only way to “cure” disease is with pills or surgeries, not lifestyle changes.

“But I really don’t think this is going to happen,” counters Kimberly Gomer, Director of Nutrition at the Pritikin Longevity Center. “People who have struggled with overweight or obesity know that the pills developed for weight loss by the pharmaceutical industry do not produce amazing results. And pills, like surgeries, often have negative effects.

“The only side effects you get from a healthy eating and exercise program like Pritikin are good ones.”

Living healthier – immediate benefits

“It’s vital for Americans to understand, too, that the benefits of a healthy lifestyle like Pritikin start kicking in almost immediately, long before you’ve lost a lot of weight,” notes Dr. Jim Barnard, UCLA researcher, who has published more than 100 studies in peer-review medical journals over the past three decades on the results of the Pritikin Program.

Within two to three weeks of adopting the Pritikin Program, and after taking off just a few pounds (on average 11 pounds for men and 7 pounds for women), the following results have been repeatedly documented:

Sums up Dr. Barnard, “Shedding large amounts of weight takes a long time, but getting healthier – much healthier – can happen very quickly with the Pritikin Program.”

Obesity Is A Disease: Trends 1990
Obesity Is A Disease: Trends 2000
Obesity Is A Disease: Trends 2010

“What’s vital, right now, is to take action. Do everything you can to learn how to eat well and fit fitness into your everyday life,” encourages Pritikin’s Fitness Director Scott Danberg, MS.

“The AMA’s announcement that obesity is a disease helps all of us put the spotlight on this nationwide epidemic. Obese individuals make up 35% of our population. When you add overweight Americans, we’re talking two-thirds of our country.”

And it all happened so quickly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. obesity rate increased about 50% between 1990 and 2010. See CDC graphics to the right.

Economic costs

The obesity epidemic is devastating not only personally but economically. States the CDC: “In 2008, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight.”

Sadly, we’ve lost our Soprano favorite James Gandolfini. Hopefully, AMA’s new declaration that obesity is a disease will help curb future tragedies.

“Certainly, our thousands of Pritikin alumni know how life-saving a healthy lifestyle can be… You’re on the right track,” encourages Pritikin’s Associate Medical Director Danine Fruge, MD.

“In fact, you’re leading the pack.”


1 Archives of Internal Medicine, 1991; 151 (7): 1389.
2 Archives of Internal Medicine, 1991; 151 (7 ): 1389.
3 Metabolism, 2004; 53: 377. Journal of Applied Physiology, 2006; 100: 1657. Atherosclerosis, 2007; 191: 98.
4 Journal of Applied Physiology, 2005; 98: 3.
5 Journal of the CardioMetabolic Syndrome, 2006; 1: 308.

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