“Oh man, my allergies, my allergies!” If I had a bitcoin for every time I have heard that line in the past month, I’d retire.
This year’s allergy season has been particularly challenging, if you can believe the unsolicited reports I get from the owners of all the runny noses around me. I need reports because I think I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have allergies. Allergies are “in.” Allergies are happening. Sufferers commiserate and compare remedies. Camaraderie develops. There’s always someone to give you a tissue or a recommendation for the latest antihistamine.
How unlike allergies is America’s newest disease: obesity. Imagine coming into the office or getting on the bus and wailing, “Oh man, my obesity, my obesity!” Not only will nobody hand you a tissue, no one will stick around to listen to the fifth word. When was the last time someone came into your office, said they had lost a few pounds, and anyone spent more than one sentence congratulating them before moving on and changing the subject. The Kardashians don’t even carry on about diet and weight loss and they talk about everything. Fat people make non-fat people uncomfortable.
The American Medical Association has just declared obesity a disease. It’s no longer simply the product of poor choices or inactivity; it’s your new sickness. Apparently, now, you can have obesity. There’s no real cure, of course, beyond reversing both poor choices and inactivity. That hasn’t changed overnight. The seriously obese patient can opt for surgery, but the sense is that if obesity is declared an official disease, there is a stronger possibility that governmental programs will be made available that, sometime in the future, just might help cure it.
But the availability of government programs and increased public awareness that obesity is now a disease does nothing to remove the stigma of being obese. Fat people used to be jolly, now they are humiliated. Really fat people have their very own reality television show, The Biggest Loser, where they can work with the best trainers and have the most personalized diet plans, and all the camaraderie they could ever ask for, but the next day at the office, I never hear anyone mention watching the show. What is it about fat and overweight that causes so much discomfort talking about it? Allergies get you friends, co-sufferers, if you will. But obesity? Now, you are really alone.
I think this is what contributes to Weight Watchers’ success. I have been a Weight Watchers member off and on for nearly 20 years and having a buddy, a group, a support system is what makes the difference. I wouldn’t say I have ever been officially obese, but I can say honestly, I always have ten to fifteen pounds to lose and Weight Watchers works for me. You won’t ever hear me talk about it though. It’s the mother of all conversation stoppers.
So if being a disease nets obesity the real attention it deserves, then bravo! I just hope it finally gets a real conversation going, too.
Anne Born has been an editor and writer all her life. She writes poems, short stories, and personal essays on family history and her view of living in a big city after growing up in a small one. She likes an audience or she would keep her writing in her personal notebook. This embarrasses her children. She lives in the South Bronx and writes on and about the MTA – the New York City system of buses and subways. You also find her at Open Salon and Red Room, and you can follow her on Twitter at @nilesite.