Body obsession is epidemic, not obesity: health expert

IS THERE really an obesity epidemic or are we simply oppressing the heavier among us?

As the Australian Medical Association weighs up whether obesity should be labelled a disease in Australia, a Sunshine Coast academic reckons there is no epidemic - just some flawed assumptions.

Researchers from Obesity Australia last week published its No Time To Weight report into the dangers of obesity and called on the AMA and government to label it a disease.

By doing so, Obesity Australia believes people will access better medical help as diseases can qualify for more government funding.

The AMA is now considering its position.

Speaking to APN from Abu Dhabi, Health and Physical Education assistant professor Lily O'Hara said the concern should be around the country's "body obsession epidemic".

Is obesity a disease?

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"I believe that labelling people as diseased based on their body mass index (BMI) will only serve to increase the shockingly high levels of stigma and other forms of oppression faced by people of higher weights," she said.

She said public health authorities were now joining with other industries to profit from the community's focus on weight.

Ms O'Hara said the way to solve the issue of body weight was to focus on health rather than measurements.

Obesity Australia Professor John Dickson agreed that the focus must be on health, not size, but said the obesity epidemic could not be denied.

He said in 1985 0.5% of Australians were severely obese - the figure now sits at 6%.

"Until we treat (obesity) as a disease like diabetes, like heart disease, like arthritis and the depression it produces - we are ignoring the risk factors that are producing serious complications, disability and early death," he said.

Prof Dickson said the belief that people became obese due to "sloth and gluttony" was wrong - often it was the result of genes and the eating habits of their families.

"I don't want people to lose weight if it is not good for their health," he said.

"It's a societal problem, not an individual problem."

The AMA is expected to decide whether to support the change of definition within six months.



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