Skip to main content

Fat people: #IAmNotADisease

By Marilyn Wann, Special to CNN
June 25, 2013 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT