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Obesity — A Term that Carries a Lot of Weight. Should We Change It?



The idea of obesity is a difficult subject to broach on many levels. The term itself is loaded with stigma, and people who suffer from this condition can become resistant to even hearing the word, let alone talk about it. The shame and anticipation of judgement can be disabling, and yet the language we use when discussing weight is so limited. What can health practitioners do to break down the wall?

In a study published in a 2012 issue of the journal Obesity, researchers asked 390 obese adults in primary care settings in the Philadelphia area to complete a questionnaire about the terms that are most and least acceptable to describe excess body weight. Out of the 11 terms that were offered, “fatness” was rated as the most undesirable, followed by “excess fat,” “large size,” “obesity” and “heaviness.” (The most preferred terms were simply “weight,” “BMI,” “weight problem” or “excess weight.”)

These words encompass the majority of terminology currently used in health care to describe excess weight. But in an effort to change how physicians and patients engage with the topic of obesity, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, or AACE, and the American College of Endocrinology, or ACE, have proposed a new diagnostic term to describe obesity: Adiposity-Based Chronic Disease, also known as ABCD.

“Right now, obesity is relegated to a simple construct of having a [body mass index] over 30,” says co-author Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick, a professor of medicine and medical director of the Kravis Center for Cardiovascular Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and past president of AACE. “But the word obesity doesn’t confer sufficient information about the disease risks.” ABCD on the other hand, focuses on a complications-centric approach to diagnosing, categorizing, and treating overweight.

The categorization takes into account a number of measures. In addition to BMI, this new system also takes into account the person’s waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, fat identified on advanced body imaging techniques such as ultrasound and MRI, and perhaps inflammatory markers on blood tests. The proposed model also includes three distinct stages:

Stage 0: The person is carrying excess weight but doesn’t have health complications from it.

Stage 1: The person is experiencing mild to moderate complications — such as prediabetes or slightly elevated blood pressure — due to excess body weight.

Stage 2: The person has more severe complications – such as type 2 diabetes or significantly high blood pressure – that are related to carrying excess weight.

What category a patient falls into would inform treatment, and would also increase the likelihood that a physician would focus on treating not just weight related complications, but also the excess body weight itself.

This new model will hopefully not only create a less biased way for physicians to engage with patients about their weight; it will also hopefully be a way for weight loss treatments to be more readily covered through insurance by having this new diagnostic term being incorporated into the medical coding structure — such as the ICD-10, or the International Classification of Diseases.

How we talk about obesity matters. And perhaps a better way to talk about obesity is to not talk about “obesity.” Not in the way people are used to hearing anyway. What are your thoughts?

Source: U.S. News


Blog written by Vanessa Ramalho/Robard Corporation


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