By Beth Piraino, MD
It’s official: obesity is now a recognized disease, as declared earlier this week by the American Medical Association (AMA). Since more than 78 million American adults and 12 million children are considered obese, this decision has far reaching effects. Not merely a lifestyle issue, obesity is now “a disease requiring a range of medical interventions,” according to the AMA. The National Kidney Foundation hopes this move will draw more attention to the seriousness of obesity and the many health complications it can cause.
Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. The body mass index is calculated by dividing the weight (in kg) by the height squared (in meters). However, BMI does not determine the percentage of the weight that is muscle versus the percentage that is fat. So, a very muscular person might have an elevated BMI and not really be overweight at all. However, these people are the minority of those with elevated BMIs; most with an elevated BMI have an excess of fat. If you’re wondering about your BMI, you can easily find calculators online.
This elevated fat content is a significant risk factor for many diseases, particularly diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes and high blood pressure, in turn, are the leading causes of kidney disease. The relationship between these conditions is so strong that the NKF advises a healthy diet that is low in sugar, salt and fat to keep body weight under control. There is more information on nutrition and diet on our website, which can help those of you with or at risk for kidney disease manage these issues.
Since obesity leads to many ill effects, our hope is that this label will lead to more attention being focused on approaches to return weight to a more healthy range. It should also help remove the stigma so often associated with being overweight or obese. This is a clinical problem that requires treatment. Overall, it could also result in positive health changes for those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease.
Dr. Beth Piraino is the President of the National Kidney Foundation