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Obesity & blame: Eroding personal responsibility

Two new scientific studies linked obesity to genes, according to news reports last week. Ah, but how much of a link?

“Thus far mutations in about eight genes are known to cause obesity in humans,” Time magazine quoted Dr. Joseph Majzoub, chief of endocrinology at Boston Children’s Hospital and the author of one of the studies, as saying. “But these mutations account for under five percent of the obesity in our society, and certainly are not, by themselves, responsible for the current obesity epidemic. ...”

In June the American Medical Association classified obesity as a disease. It did so over the objections of the Council on Science and Public Health, the AMA committee tasked with studying the issue. The AMA went with the classification anyway to focus more attention on obesity and encourage insurers to treat it. In short, it was a political decision, not a medical one.

Though some people have legitimate genetic, thyroid or other issues that can cause obesity, the combination of overeating and underexercising is not itself a disease. Typically, it is a bad decision. Medicalizing bad choices, or blaming them on soda makers and fast food restaurants, will not make us healthier. It will further erode the concepts of personal responsibility and accountability and ultimately encourage the blame-shifting that undermines all efforts to restore this nation’s long-faded goal of universal self-reliance.

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