Sean Neill is a South African-born, British-trained anesthesiologist, who recently relocated to Midwestern USA. He blogs regularly at OnMedica about his cross-cultural experience, frequently pointing out oddities of American health care.
Having arrived to see the last of the winter snow, we were amazed at how quickly spring and summer evolved. Frozen pavements evolved to lush green grass in a matter of weeks. Work is a 10 minute cycle away and most Americans find it humorous to see you arrive at the hospital in cycling gear. When asking for directions, the reply is always in terms of driving, even if it is just around the corner. One quickly learns to cycle on the wrong (right) side of the road as the vehicles are so large you would not want to make a mistake.
Another noticeable difference between health care in the UK and the USA is in terms of billing. A UK patient can go into an NHS hospital for a big procedure and may not be asked for another penny. It is completely different in America, where charges start from the minute you walk in the door. Each hospital specialty has its own large team of dedicated professionals diligently chasing every possible expense. A short visit to a primary health care facility will be followed by a bill within days.
Few would dispute that curbing rising rates of obesity is one of the greatest public health challenges of the 21st Century, yet as a nation, we grapple with how to talk about being fat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention even dances around the subject by labeling overweight kids "at risk for overweight" and obese kids "overweight."
One might argue that labeling any kids or adults is wrong, but you can’t solve the problem unless you name it and quantify it. Well, we’ve quantified it. Roughly one-third of adults are obese and two-thirds are overweight.
So now, we have to do something about this grossly expensive epidemic. Some employers facing ballooning health costs have taken punitive approaches to push their workers to lose weight. But arms flew up aghast when Chicago’s police chief dared to say that all officers must pass a physical fitness test. The police department already has a voluntary program that provides a $250 bonus to the cops that pass. Voluntary, clearly didn’t work
Some obesity experts say these punitive approaches to reduce obesity won’t work, and in fact, they are discriminating. Some have coined this "weightism."
Researchers at Yale University published a paper last month in the International Journal of Obesity saying discrimination based on weight is as much of a problem in American society as discrimination based on race or gender, especially for women and individuals with a Body Mass Index of 35 or higher (a 200 pound 5’4" person has a BMI of 35).
Many contributing factors to obesity are beyond individual control and simply suggesting that people exercise more and eat less probably won’t work, especially if you live in a neighborhood without safe streets and parks and no healthy food. But some behaviors are within our control, and progress cannot be made if political correctness overtakes frank discussions.
I asked one of the Yale study’s lead authors, Rebecca Puhl, about the study, discrimination and possible solutions to the obesity epidemic. Here are her answers:
Maybe you saw the article: “Health 2.0 Helps, But Personal Contact Remains Top Weight Loss Strategy.”
OK. I made up the headline. But the information comes from an article that provides food for thought for those of us who speak, blog and otherwise evangelize about the good things the Internet is bringing to
health care. Here’s one question to start with: is there a different ethical obligation for those promoting the efficacy of an online health intervention than for those promoting a site to help you find a great