June 19 2014 12:00 AM

Legislators, medical community weigh in on ways to combat obesity

(from left) James K. Haveman, Tommy G. Thompson and Dr. Fred J. Van Alstine speak at the Obesity Awareness Press Conference at the Michigan State Capitol building on Wednesday, to address the possible solutions for obesity in America. Simone Carter/C

THURSDAY, June 19 — This week marks the one-year anniversary of the American Medical Association officially defining obesity as a disease. Obesity has become one of America’s biggest health issues, and Michigan is at the frontline of the battle of the bulge: Michigan is ranked 10th among obesity rates in the country.

Tommy G. Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, held a press conference urging the government to aid in medication to help Americans lose weight.

“Obesity is about a $200 billion problem facing all of us in America,” Thompson said. “It is a huge problem for individuals but is a bigger problem for the health care system.”

Accompanying Thompson was James K. Haveman, Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health. He outlined the progress made on the Michigan Health and Wellness 4 x 4 Plan for Michiganders to be healthy and productive. The conference was a part of state and national efforts to raise awareness about the effects of obesity on the health of people in Michigan.

Thompson encouraged Congress to pass the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act to require Medicare to cover obesity medicines for America’s seniors. The Act has 100 bipartisan co-sponsors, two from Michigan.

However, Dr. Fred J. Van Alstine, President of the Board of Michigan Academy of Family Physicians, believes that obesity is a symptom of lifestyle and not necessarily a Disease. He has a different view on obesity and how Americans should handle it.

“We are over-reliant on treating symptoms and less reliant on the primary causes,” Alstine said. “If we only rely on medicine, then we are not going to be healthier.”

Alstine urges people to makes changes in lifestyles and not rely on medicine to cure the problem. He wants everyone to know that treating obesity does not make you healthier — good health comes from being fit, he said, not necessarily thin.

“Obesity is simply a product of what we are challenged with on a day-to-day basis in modern society,” said Alstine. “We have no practical constraints on consumption.”

Alstine considers himself overweight, even though he admits he is educated about healthy food consumption. Fresh and healthy foods, he said, are more difficult to obtain depending on where a person lives. He said living in an inner city may provide more of challenge than a more rural area. Instead of the government using more money for medicine to fight obesity, Alstine would like to see that money used to pay for lifestyle coaches.

“The best medicine that you can take is the one that you don’t take,” said Alstine. “We can get people healthy and fit without medication.”