Shedding some weight on the health care crisis

In today’s world, the term “obesity” is more than just a medical diagnosis—it’s a complex issue intertwined with personal experiences, societal norms, and systemic challenges. As a seasoned family doctor, I’ve witnessed firsthand the multifaceted nature of obesity and its profound impact on individuals’ lives. But beyond the clinical observations, I carry a personal history marked by struggles with weight and body image.

I’m a family doctor, and I have been practicing for over a decade. I’ve worked in ER in rural towns, though it was short-lived, as my then 20-something self didn’t feel comfortable being the only doctor in the hospital for miles. I then refocused my practice to being 100% community-based, providing both inpatient and outpatient care. However, due to factors such as exhaustion, lack of support, and the desire for better sleep at night, I decided to focus solely on my private medical practice.

Allow me to share a bit of personal history. I was the third child and had three brothers. I was the heaviest sibling, and at school, I was the brunt of jokes, being called “wide load” or mimicked with “honking noises” like a truck. I was acutely aware of my weight, and it was a source of insecurity for me. Although I ate the same meals as my siblings, I was the one who carried extra weight. In adulthood, I’ve experienced fluctuations in my weight, though thankfully (keeping my fingers crossed), I have been able to maintain a healthier weight lately. However, at the time of writing this blog, I’m still considered overweight according to BMI standards, although I can fit into a size six to eight dress. Now, I recognize that the BMI is inherently flawed, but it serves as a tool for measurement.

Now, let me share my truth, informed by personal and clinical experiences and supported by extensive research. OK, deep breath—and please understand that I’m approaching this discussion with respect. In order to improve our health care crisis, we must address the obesity crisis. I’m not just talking about being a few pounds overweight, but situations where weight significantly impacts individuals’ function and well-being and puts them at increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, among other conditions.

Yes, please take the time to read my words. I’m not here to sugar-coat anything. Until we, as a society, examine the root causes of obesity, we will continue to face the weight of health challenges, no pun intended. The solution requires both individual and governmental accountability. Here are a few of my ideas:

Look at the root causes of obesity. Addressing the obesity crisis requires a holistic understanding of its root causes. While lack of physical activity and poor dietary habits are commonly cited factors, they represent only the tip of the iceberg. Research has shown that socioeconomic disparities, food accessibility, food marketing practices, urbanization, and sedentary lifestyles all play significant roles in driving obesity rates. Moreover, genetic predispositions and metabolic factors contribute to individual susceptibility to weight gain.

Closely examine maternal and childhood nutrition. It should be a law that everybody gets access to proper, nutritious foods. Early dietary habits lay the foundation for lifelong health outcomes, making it imperative to ensure access to proper nutrition during formative years. Unfortunately, disparities in access to nutritious foods persist, disproportionately affecting low-income families and marginalized communities. Implementing policies to improve maternal and child nutrition, such as subsidized healthy food programs and nutritional education initiatives, is paramount in addressing this issue.

Stop knowingly putting crazy chemicals and crap in our food. The proliferation of processed foods laden with chemicals and additives further exacerbates the obesity epidemic. From artificial sweeteners to preservatives and flavor enhancers, these substances not only contribute to weight gain but also pose risks to overall health. One notable example is the Quaker Oats fiasco, where traces of glyphosate, a potentially carcinogenic herbicide, were found in oat-based products. Such incidents underscore the need for stringent regulations and transparent labeling practices to safeguard consumer health.

Slow down on GMO foods. In recent years, the widespread adoption of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in agriculture has raised concerns about their impact on human health. Studies suggest that GMOs may disrupt hormonal balance, interfere with metabolic processes, and contribute to weight gain. Moreover, the use of genetically modified crops resistant to herbicides has led to increased pesticide exposure, further compounding health risks. Limiting the production and consumption of GMO foods is essential in promoting healthier dietary choices.

Bring back physical education in all grades and all schools. Reinstating physical education programs in schools is instrumental in fostering healthy habits from an early age. Regular physical activity not only helps combat obesity but also improves cognitive function, emotional well-being, and social skills. Research has consistently shown that children who engage in regular exercise perform better academically and are less likely to develop chronic health conditions later in life. By prioritizing physical education in curriculum planning, schools can empower students to lead active lifestyles and reduce the burden of obesity-related diseases.

Stop putting crack in our foods. Ah, I got your attention. But really, high fructose corn syrup is known to be addictive and toxic in our bodies. The pervasive use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in processed foods has been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. HFCS, a highly refined sweetener derived from corn starch, is cheaper to produce than sucrose (table sugar) and is commonly used as a sweetening agent in sodas, candies, baked goods, and condiments. Its widespread consumption has been implicated in the rise of obesity rates, as HFCS disrupts hormonal signaling, leading to increased appetite and weight gain. Additionally, HFCS has addictive properties, further exacerbating the obesity epidemic. Regulating the use of HFCS and other addictive substances in food production is essential in promoting healthier dietary choices and curbing obesity rates.

Make proper, preventative health care accessible for all. Health care systems must prioritize preventive measures, such as regular screenings, nutritional counseling, and obesity management programs, to mitigate the burden of obesity-related diseases. Additionally, addressing socioeconomic disparities in health care access and promoting health equity are crucial steps toward building healthier communities.

Well, these are just a few suggestions— food for thought. I appreciate you taking the time to read my article, coming from a place of humility as a fellow colleague and a woman who has struggled with her weight her entire life.

Tomi Mitchell, a family physician and founder of Dr. Tomi Mitchell Holistic Wellness Strategies, is not only a distinguished international keynote speaker but also a passionate advocate for mental health and physician’s well-being, hosting her podcast, The Mental Health & Wellness Show. With over a decade of experience in presenting, public speaking, and training, she excels in creating meaningful connections with her audience. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and book a discovery call.

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