Dr. David Katz is a busy guy! One of his many roles is Editor-in-chief of the journal Childhood Obesity. In an editorial in the February issue, he asserts that obesity is like drowning: “medically legitimate,” but not a disease. For him, this is not just semantics:
The importance of considering obesity a variety of drowning lies with the implied remediations. Whereas we do treat drowning when it occurs, our principal approach is directed at prevention. … We recognize the problem of drowning as a mismatch between our bodies and the environment, and direct our efforts at the interface. Diseases, in contrast, bespeak a problem within us, rather than all around us, and direct our efforts accordingly.
Obesity as disease implies that a large population of our sons and daughters are not just heavy, but diseased. I object to this, for the fault lies not with the bodies of our children, but with the body politic. The fault lies with a culture that sanctions junk as a food group, jettisons physical activity from the school day despite evidence of its myriad benefits, and, in general, leaves health to languish on a road not taken while neglecting much that might be done to put it on a path of lesser resistance. If ever more effort is directed at obesity as a disease, treated in the customary ways, none of these fundamental problems will garner the attention each deserves.
Obesity need not be a disease to be legitimate. If it is a disease, it is a social disease.