However, as a lifetime owner of a spare tire (which has expanded and contracted with the seasons of my life) I do feel qualified to make a few comments about the issue.
I think it's a good thing to name obesity a disease if that will help people get treatment -- especially for morbidly obese people who might want to get stomach bypass surgery and have their medical insurance help defray the cost. And by the way, kudos to weatherman Al Roker, and now New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, for going public with this type of surgery. Maybe they can do for obesity what Betty Ford and others did for addiction.
I also think it's a good thing if it raises our awareness of the perils of obesity, and somehow gets us all to eat less and do more exercise -- though I doubt this is going to happen. The New York Times had an article yesterday, Don't Count on Calorie Counts by Frank Bruni (a former fat person) saying how just informing people of how fattening certain foods are does not seem to get them to switch to a healthier diet. As he says, "Knowledge may be power, but hunger routinely trumps it."
Yet, in my opinion, labeling obesity a disease could be a bad move if it encourages people to believe that obesity is just something that happens to them, like catching the flu, and that they have no control over their own weight. It's in their genes; it's in their environment; there's nothing they can do about it.
Some tendency for obesity is surely in the genes. And the explosion of obesity over the past 20 or 30 years offers substantial evidence that our environment is also a significant factor.
But obesity -- like most things -- is not an all or nothing issue. Our body weight and BMI are not entirely in our control; but they're not entirely beyond our control either. Many people have gone on many successful diets, and they've proved that we can lose weight if we really put our minds to it. It's hard to lose weight. It's hard to quit smoking, too. But a lot of people have done it.
But back to Frank Bruni. He says that various studies have shown that posting calorie counts at restaurants doesn't influence people to select lower calorie menu choices. He makes an analogy to smoking. Almost 50 years ago, the Surgeon General required tobacco companies to print warnings on packs of cigarettes. But for the most part people read the warnings, then ignored them and went right on smoking. What finally got people to stop were the various smoking bans that went into effect in the 1980s and 1990s -- in offices, in restaurants, and finally even in bars.
I remember a few of my own efforts to lose weight. One time I gave up drinking alcohol. Get rid of all those empty calories and I'm bound to lose weight, I thought. But what did I do? I told myself that I hadn't had a drink before dinner, hadn't eaten any appetizers that go with it. So, surely it wouldn't hurt if I indulged dessert.
A few years ago I finally got serious and lost 15 pounds. My motivation was a bad knee. The doctor told me he could give me a cortizone shot, and exercise would help. But he looked me in the eyes and said, "You know, it wouldn't hurt to lose a few pounds, either. The less weight that knee has to bear, the better off it's going to be."
How did I do it? I gave up drinking soda, and went to bottled water. And here's the thing -- I mostly drank diet soda! But it didn't seem to matter. Without the soda, I lost 15 pounds. I did some other things too -- cut out dessert, joined a gym -- but I think it was giving up soda that did the trick.
Now, four years later, I've kept off about ten of those pounds. I do drink a soda now and then, even though I know I shouldn't. And right now, I can hear B in the living room exercising to her Leslie Sansone CD. And, er, I realize I should probably get up to the gym more often, too.