America's Newest Disease

Last month, the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association of physicians in the United States, officially recognized obesity as a disease.

Previously, obesity was only recognized as a “condition,” defined as a range of weight that may have an adverse effect on health, reduce life expectancy and increase the likelihood of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, adult onset diabetes and cancer. An adult is considered obese when their Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of height to weight ratio, is 30 or higher.

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To date, obesity has been viewed as a consequence of unhealthy diet and exercise habits, which can only be reversed through lifestyle changes. However, there are many genetic, socioeconomic and environmental factors which also play a role.

The AMA's announcement is expected to shift the focus on obesity from lifestyle changes, to the ways in which it can be treated medically. Some critics are concerned that this will lead to an increase in the use of prescription drugs and medical procedures such as gastric bypass surgery. Although people are divided about how obesity should be addressed, no one can argue that obesity has become a problem of epidemic proportions, as nearly one-third of Americans and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese in America today.

Part of the Land Stewardship Project's work addresses barriers to a healthy lifestyle by focusing on access to healthy, local, fresh food in urban and rural areas. For example, LSP's work with Hope Community combines peer education, social support and a space to grow and cook fresh food in the city. The AMA's recognition of obesity as a disease may spawn varying ideas for treatment, but the fact remains: an ounce of prevention in the garden or kitchen can result in a pound of cure.