March 13, 2013
By Durado Brooks, MD, MPH
Suppose that, during your next doctor's visit, you look at your medical record and your doctor has written "53- year-old diabetic white female, here today for a check-up." Would you be bothered by that description? Probably not. Your doctor is just discussing your medical condition, right? But what if, instead of "diabetic" the note read "53-year-old obese white female?" How would you feel now? Hurt? Angry? Sad? Would you think, "Why is my doctor being so mean?"
For many, the term "obese" brings to mind a massively overweight individual (like "Fat Albert" in the old Saturday morning cartoons). In reality most obese people don't look like Albert.
Obesity is a medical term
Obesity is actually a precise medical term that is based on a measure of body fat called the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI is calculated from a person's height and weight. In general, a higher BMI indicates a higher amount of body fat. Adults with a BMI between 18 and 25 are in the "healthy" body fat/weight category. People with a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight, and a BMI greater than 30 signifies obesity. Many people who view themselves as having a "normal weight" (or at most "pleasingly plump") are shocked when they do this calculation and realize that 180 pounds on their 5 feet 6 inch frame means they are medically obese.
Our obsession with body image creates an emotional context for obesity that doesn't exist for most other medical issues. But make no mistake about it - obesity is a medical condition, and like other medical problems it has important long-term implications for health and well-being. More...