Skip to main content

Fat people: #IAmNotADisease

By Marilyn Wann, Special to CNN
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue June 25, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease
  • Marilyn Wann: Because of the label, fat people will likely encounter more weight bias
  • She says the AMA is focused on profit by focusing on weigh and weigh loss approach
  • Wann: If the AMA truly cares about the health of fat people, they will end the war on obesity

Editor's note: Marilyn Wann is author of "FAT!SO?" and a weight diversity speaker internationally. She is the creator of Yay! Scales, which give compliments instead of numbers.

(CNN) -- In deciding last week to label one third of Americans -- fat people -- as diseased, the American Medical Association not only went against the advice of its own experts, they also failed to include anyone from fat community in that decision.

There is a consensus among three groups of people -- those who proudly self-identify as fat, fat studies scholars and advocates of the Health at Every Size approach -- that the AMA is putting profits before people and redoubling its focus on weight and weight loss when that approach has, for decades, failed to produce on its promises. It doesn't make people thinner or healthier in the long term, and it encourages weight stigma, prejudice and discrimination.

The AMA seems eager to expand weight-loss treatment and convince insurers to reimburse for it. Big Pharma has two new weight-loss drugs out, with users losing at most only 10% of their body weight at a monthly cost of $100 or more and possible health complications.

New obesity drug Belviq to be available to certain patients

2012: FDA-approved diet drug Qsymia available

Bariatric surgeons would doubtless like to expand insurance reimbursements for the practice of surgically interrupting healthy internal organs. And the $66 billion per year weight-loss industry has a stake, too. (Although "weight-loss" industry is a misnomer when so many dieters regain lost weight that repeat customers are a basic part of the industry's business model.)

Marilyn Wann
Marilyn Wann

"I can guarantee you that if there was no money to be had in this, the term 'obesity epidemic' would not exist," said clinical psychologist Peggy Elam.

At news of the AMA's pronouncement, fat community members started the #IAmNotADisease hashtag on Twitter. I posted this petition on Change.org. The fat community's oldest civil rights group, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, proclaimed a vote of no confidence in the AMA and called for "an immediate roundtable discussion that includes higher-weight people from every community."

As a result of the AMA's decision, fat people who face health challenges will encounter even more weight bias in medical settings and will likely encounter more difficulty obtaining treatment unrelated to weight. (The classic story in fat community involves going to the doctor with a sinus headache and being told to lose weight although many people's stories of medical weight bias are far more dire.)

Nation's obesity crisis

Weight stigma itself is a direct threat to fat people's health.

"Overall, it feels like another form of systematic discrimination and oppression," said blogger TaRessa Stovall.

Author Lesley Kinzel wrote, "For all of our cultural hand-wringing about how much fat people are allegedly costing health insurance companies, the AMA sure doesn't seem bothered by potentially causing an explosion of unnecessary prescriptions (and surgeries!) among the one-third of Americans who are suddenly now 'diseased.' "

When doctors rely on weight, or a phrenology-era number such as BMI, they will misidentify more than half the healthy people as unhealthy, psychologist Deb Burgard pointed out.

"They do not seem to understand that calling one-third of the natural variety in a population 'sick' is a hostile act and undermines the trust that millions of people would otherwise place in their doctors' advice," Burgard said.

As one petition signer, Victoria Centanni, commented: "My doctor already [attributes] all of my health problems to my being fat. [It] makes me want to avoid seeking health care for any reason."

For more than two decades, health professionals who promote the Health at Every Size concept have argued that a weight focus does no lasting good and much harm to physical and mental health and to fat people's social status.

They are finding that a weight-neutral approach based in self-acceptance and social justice yields far superior results for people's health and happiness. People are able to develop enjoyable, sustainable eating and exercise habits and a positive feeling about their bodies.

If the AMA truly cares about the health of fat people, they will end the war on obesity.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Marilyn Wann.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:15 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT