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The recent news that obesity is now going to be considered a disease by the U.S. American Medical Association could have very far reaching consequences – for individuals, doctors, insurance companies, the food and pharmaceutical industries – and animals? Maybe. There are many concerns about how this new classification of obesity is going to affect the practice of medicine, the distribution of health care dollars, and the personal investment of individuals trying to lose weight. Since this blog is about animal rights, though, I am going to let others sort out the economic and policy issues of this decision. But in terms of animal rights, this decision could make a difference. IF the focus becomes lifestyle over medicine and food choices over the latest-greatest weight loss pill, it COULD make a difference. If a vegan diet is seen as a real treatment option rather than just the choice of a few people who are concerned about animals, it COULD make a difference.

Excluding weight issues in those for whom weight gain is due to a primary medical condition (and there are some), most medical and weight-loss experts agree that weight management has to do with diet more than any other lifestyle feature. Sure, exercise is important for creating a calorie deficit and building muscle, and getting enough sleep is important for hormone balance. There are many important aspects to losing weight, but the most important by far, is WHAT WE EAT – day in, day out, month after month, year after year. And on this point, the science is clear. Individuals who consume a plant-based diet have lower body fat and cholesterol, lower bmi and blood pressure, and are at reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. It has even been shown to create conditions that may slow the human aging process. The very visible physical transformations of high profile plant eaters, such as President Bill Clinton, who is now following a diet that is very close to vegan (reports are that he occasionally eats fish), only drive home the point that eating a plant based diet is healthier. It is more conducive to weight loss and maintenance. It lowers risk for a variety of diseases that are weight related, as well as diseases that are a result of too much salt, cholesterol, or pesticide or hormone intake. No matter how much the farmed animal industry might wish to deny it, it is healthier.

The question is, with this new classification of obesity as a disease, will the patients trying to lose weight be treated differently? Will there be more of a focus on a healthier diet? Will physicians educate their patients on the benefits of a plant based diet? – assuming, of course, that they physicians are themselves educated on the issue. Will the interests of science and medicine be able to stand up to the farm and pharm lobbies, who will be only too happy to try and breed a lower fat cow or whip up a new weight-loss drug?

IF the emphasis can be focused on individual lifestyle choices, IF people are willing to see the reality which is supported by science, and IF the desire of people to lose weight and be healthier is stronger than the influence of the groups who do not want to hear about the benefits of a plant based diet because it hurts their bottom line, then yes, there is a chance that this latest reclassification of obesity as a disease could not only end up helping many people, but many animals as well.

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