The AMA’s announcement this week isn’t the real headline.
Instead, it is Americans’ acceptance to the task at hand — avoiding the poor decisions and lifestyle choices that often lead to a host of medical problems, including diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. Clearly, the solutions are not easy.
Up front, let’s recognize that this topic, like most, is not simplistic. There are Americans who struggle at weight control through genetics, not poor choices. There are Americans who exercise and avoid fatty foods and still suffer from weight-related illnesses. To discuss obese Americans with a broad brush would leave too much unexplained.
Nevertheless, American reality isn’t kind. You know the facts: As a nation, we eat too much fast food, we exercise too infrequently, too many of us work in sedentary, stare-at-the-computer-screen jobs, and the mix is toxic. Childhood obesity, rampant in the United States, carries the same causes and effects and has become this nation’s generational cancer. Obese parents who don’t exercise and don’t eat healthily often have children who mimic those unhealthy traits.
Not mentioned in the AMA’s acknowledgment this week is the role played by regional and socioeconomic differences. Trust us — they matter. We’re proud of our Southern way of life, exemplified in part by our love of anything fried. Fat, grease and butter are ingredients, not kitchen evils. But Americans at large and Southerners particularly are sacrificing their health for the sake of good-ol’ Southern cooking. Our obsession with sugary drinks only make matters worse.
And then there is that age-old necessity: money.
Last year, The Star expanded its coverage of Alabamians’ obesity under the banner of “Our Big Problem.” Early on, our reporters detailed how our state’s low-income residents — of any race — are overwhelmingly more susceptible to being overweight. The logistics are first-grade simple.
Poor people live check-to-check. Fast food and processed food is cheap. The combination kills. Actions become habits. Changing that vicious cycle and making access to healthier, fresher foods are critical to lessening obesity’s grip on Americans.
We fully support the AMA’s decision to recognize obesity as a disease. Our hope is that, at the very least, the AMA’s push to improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling will be successful. Those fixes are a few parts to a large, complex puzzle.
It’s impossible to ignore, however, the smiles on the faces of those who decide to take control of their lives and exchange unhealthy habits for good choices. Baby steps today, life-changing results tomorrow.