Obesity: The disease that dares not say its name

By Dr. Stafford Dobbin

The recent study showing a group of “Biggest Losers” putting all of their weight back on has received plenty of publicity.  The problem?  They are adults who were all doomed from the start.  The disease which is called obesity, or being overweight, has to be treated at the very beginning of life.  It may be a surprise, but it starts when you are born.

For many people it is genetic.  If one of your parents is overweight then you are 50% likely to be as well.  Having two obese parents increases the likelihood to 75%.

Obesity is actually a disease of the adipose tissue cells:  adipose hypertrophy or adipose hyperplasia, which means that the fat cells are too big or there are too many of them.  It can be diagnosed by a doctor at the 2, 4, 6, 12, or 18 month vaccination visit and again at preschool.  If the doctor is using growth charts and a Body Mass Index, an overweight indication will show up if the child is above the 85th percentile for sex and age, and obesity is above the 95th percentile.  Intervention at that stage will include a list of rules to follow which will prevent the adipose cells from acquiring the hypertrophy or hyperplasia that is uncontrollable as an adult.  Older children should use waist circumference as a measure:  your waist should be half your height.  The intervention is to prevent overweight children from becoming obese adults.

Individuals with the disease of adiposity and obesity cannot eat certain foods like sugared beverages, high added sugar foods and most fast foods.  Yes, it’s unfair, but to control the disease you have to take the treatment.  Many individuals’ genes come from undernourished areas many generations ago;  to those genes the fast foods and adulterated food products of today are simply poison.  To eradicate obesity we need to change our food products.  To do this we need the votes of those who are being harmed by them.  Morbid obesity would be much less threatening if we also treated overweight and adiposity.

Only in the Niagara Region are children assessed for future risk of obesity/overweight (diabetes and heart attack) and their families and doctors are informed.  The Niagara Healthy Heart Schools’ Program is run by Heart Niagara, and this is a “made in Niagara” solution.  Elsewhere, obesity/adiposity is “the disease that dares not say its name.”  The sufferers must not be made aware.

Other diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, we do not lecture everyone on avoiding the disease and then do nothing else.  We advise prevention, but we also go out and diagnose who has the disease and we treat those individuals.  Overweight and obesity are no different.


About the Author


Dr. Stafford W. Dobbin is a graduate of Queens University Belfast and founded Heart Niagara in 1977. He established the first Department of Emergency Services in Niagara at the Greater Niagara General Hospital in 1976.  Through Heart Niagara he initiated the teaching of citizen cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and advanced cardiac life support for critical care personnel prior to the establishment of the Regional Paramedic program.

His initial design of Heart Niagara included a cardiac rehabilitation program for survivors of cardiac events staffed by qualified physicians and nurses for which he was the medical director until 2002. He started the Heart Niagara’s Healthy Heart Schools’ Program in 1985 and currently serves as medical director. His EMS system for coverage of mass participation events was first used at the US Olympic Marathon trials in 1980 and he served on the first executive of the International Marathon Directors Association. He is presently a partner in the Niagara Medical Group, Family Health Team, in Niagara Falls.


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