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It's Time to Treat Obesity as a Disease and Not as a Failure of Own Character


Dr. Jorge Ramallo, Sixteenth Street Pediatrician
June 26, 2019

At this time of year, with snow melting and longer days indicating the arrival of spring, New Year’s resolutions are a distant story. A large part of these resolutions include losing weight. Diets fail, gym memberships go unused, and new exercise equipment is covered in dust. This annual tradition entails a sense of judgment and disappointment. The challenge of losing weight and keeping it under fails despite our best efforts – only one in six obese people loses weight and maintains it, but why is obesity so difficult to treat?

In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults are obese or overweight. This affects people of all races, creeds, and sex.  The Latino community has (47.0%) adults who are obese. Here in the southern sector of Milwaukee, the prevalence of obesity is even higher. In the 53204-zip code, where most patients of the Sixteenth Street Clinic live, 48.6% of adults are obese.

Although obesity is seen as a result of lack of willpower and discipline, scientific evidence reveals that the causes of obesity are more numerous and complicated. These include factors such as genes, the neighborhood where we live, our economic status, and even whether one was breastfed as a baby. What we can see at Sixteenth Street is that losing weight and maintaining it is difficult but necessary.

We know that obesity affects our health. Carrying excessive fat on our body increases our risk of many chronic diseases including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis. Obesity is also associated with other less obvious diseases such as infertility, anxiety, depression, and many cancers. Here at the Sixteenth Clinic we see how these diseases decrease the quality of life of our patients. Since obesity is the common cause of so many diseases, we also understand that reducing obesity in our neighborhood would create a domino effect that would improve the health of our community. Many people separate obesity from other medical problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes. We take these diagnoses more seriously and know that they require intense medical treatment. Obesity should to be seen in the same way and should be considered a chronic disease.

Here at the Sixteenth Clinic we are creating a strategy to treat obesity based on the latest available scientific evidence. What have we discovered? The most effective interventions for obesity reduction in Latino communities are exploited of the sense of community and family. For example, belonging to an exercise group with your family or friends gives you a higher chance of getting results than doing it alone. The focus on home-cooked diet and healthy versions of our traditional food are also imperatives. Finally, it’s important to talk about weight with your primary doctor, especially if you’ve tried to lose it in the past, but you still can’t lose weight. Some people who can’t lose weight despite implementing changes in their diet and exercise may benefit from medications and other medical strategies to help them reach their ideal weight.

Obesity is very common in our community and it’s time to see it for what it really is – a medical condition caused by our genes and the environment. It is not a failure of willpower or poor personal character. Thus, we also erase the stigma associated with this condition and help our community live a happy and healthy life.

In the second part of this article, we’ll explore resource sources available to our community to achieve its weight loss goal.

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