During each of my conversations with experts on heart health, I hear a common refrain: The risk factors for heart disease are improper diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and obesity. This last factor has also been in the news frequently; according to some experts, obesity is on the rise worldwide, on the verge of overtaking world hunger as a major world health problem.
When it comes to the clinical setting, however, doctors have related to me the difficulty they have with talking about weight with some of their patients. One doctor told me that, often, when she says a patient is in the “obese” range of the BMI scale, frequently the patient is astounded; he or she might think her- or himself overweight, but surely not “obese.” In our weight-obsessed world, ‘obese’ is not a term many people want to use to describe themselves. And yet, what it means is so vitally important to identifying and addressing health, especially heart health issues, and ignoring it or trying to deny it does nothing to promote taking steps to better health.
Would it help if we changed the word? We do have other choices: Corpulent, stout, fleshy, chubby. I suppose, too, we could come up with another scale, beyond BMI, to quantify healthy and unhealthful weight. But would that change minds – and hearts – to better accept reality and start on the road to better health? Or, is there something else we should be focusing on instead? Something, perhaps, that would show a “before” and “after” that is not merely cosmetic, but that shows the benefits of getting beyond the ‘word’ to the ‘well.’
At the beginning of the anit-smoking campaign, media advertisements did not pull punches; they showed the raw affects of tobacco on lungs and lives. In much the same way, the television program “The Biggest Loser” takes each participant through a very frank, open, and telling physical exam at the beginning, showing each his or her health problems, and at the end, showing the progress that has been made. These are not easy to watch, but are much more instructive than uttering a word, with the connotation that it is “bad,” and leaving it at that.
People and labels tend to be uneasy partners, especially when it comes to health issues. Perhaps we obsess too much over categories, when we could be encouraging better habits that lead to better outcomes, and self-esteem that comes from tackling a tough personal situation, turning it around, and coming through much happier and healthier.
Blessings for the day,