Disease-causing obesity, which afflicts about 40 million people across the world and roughly 250,000 in Israel alone, causes leads to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, respiratory arrest, fertility problems, depression, and other maladies.
According to the World Health Organization, obesity is the number one epidemic of the 21st century and as a result, this period is emerging as the first time where the life expectancy of children is expected to fall below that of their parents.
Since US President George W. Bush declared a war on obesity, we have seen changes for the better at schools, fast-food outlets, restaurants, and coffees shops in America. Similarly, Prime Minister Olmert's declaration regarding the formulation of a national program for preventative medicine, which will focus mostly on obesity as a source of sickness, is expected to assist in the war on Israel's excess weight epidemic.
Should the prime minister's decision be implemented, it would be a praiseworthy move. At the same time, I believe that in order to implement it, legislation is required. A law that recognizes obesity as a chronic disease would lead to the setting of clear criteria for the Israeli health system – such criteria would make it clear which cases of obesity indeed constitute a healthy problem, rather than merely an aesthetic issue.
This way, pediatricians would be obligated to refer those who suffer from obesity to follow-up checks and treatment even before their condition worsens. Later, we should learn from global experience and set guidelines for appropriate medical treatment for those patients.
Treatment and prevention must start at the pediatrician, who also constitutes a first stop for diagnosis and treatment. Studies undertaken in the US showed that doctors do not feel they are able to offer their assistance in resolving the problem of obesity compared to other health problems.
In addition, it was discovered that doctors refrain from commenting to patients regarding excess weight, and do not tend to record the height and weight, which constitute a basic tool for estimating weight gain, in their patients' files
This is why it is so important to entrench the issue of recognizing this as a chronic disease by law, which obligates doctor to order follow-up checks – weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar level, while also referring those who suffer from excess weight to specialists such as nutritionists, psychologists, and in critical cases, surgeons.
I will end on a personal note. Up until five years ago I was a heavyset woman. The extreme weight gain (133 kilograms – roughly 300 pounds) caused high cholesterol, diabetes, psoriasis, and even a severe heart attack.
After I was referred for the right treatment and lost 61 kilograms (roughly 135 pounds,) I got rid of the diseases that put me in jeopardy, as well as the physical, mental, and social suffering. I got my life back – with a little help, desire, and guidance, others can too.