Ask Mr. Dad: Should we be rethinking weight?

Armin Brott, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Dear Mr. Dad: As someone who has been overweight for most of my childhood and adult life, I am concerned about my son facing the same struggle. I am someone who has felt shame while at the same time being uncomfortable talking about myself as someone with obesity – which, in medical terms, I am. This has frequently discouraged me from talking to my doctor about seeking new options to address my weight. Lately, obesity seems like an especially hot topic in the news. I’ve heard a fair amount of discussion about further medical information and changes in available treatments. Is there anything new and real that I can share with my son as he goes through similar challenges?

A: I do see a lot of new information about an “ideal weight” and how to get there. It’s hard to watch someone else suffer, especially your own child, but as you know from your experience, weight struggles are usually not self-correcting. Your son’s worry about his weight is reasonable, and his desire for change is understandable. It seems there is a real opportunity for progress here.

To help sort through the immeasurable amount of background noise on this topic, I reached out to Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford from Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, who spoke about weight and obesity earlier this year on "60 Minutes."

As an obesity specialist, Stanford shared some key points relating to the prevalence of obesity, as well as its relationship with other serious health issues. “Many people don’t realize that in 2013 the American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease. I believe obesity is a brain disease that almost half of American adults suffer from. The amount of people with obesity has exploded in recent decades," she says.

"Although we don’t have all the reasons for that, we know that obesity is a factor in more than a dozen cancers, as well as Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and stroke. It is a brain disease in that our brain tells us how much to eat and how much to store," she says, describing it as a “set point" — one our brain will fight any attempt to change.


Stanford also says many doctors don’t understand obesity, so it is critically important to find a doctor who will treat it as the disease it is, and without judgment. She relayed statistics showing that 79% to 90% of physicians in the United States have a significant bias against individuals who have obesity, believing individuals are the cause of their disease.

In reality, the No. 1 cause of obesity is genetics. If you were born to parents who have obesity, Stanford says you have a 50% to 85% likelihood of having the disease yourself, even with the best diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. This epigenetic predisposition in combination with each person’s inherent set point makes obesity very difficult to overcome.

Educating yourself and your son on the topic is also a great idea. Stanford and some of America’s other top obesity doctors recently shared their thoughts on a wide range of weight management topics at a town hall event where experts, patients and family members broke down why there needs to be a better understanding of the science of obesity, while sharing personal stories of people living with the disease. Face to Face | Rethinking Weight is streaming at:

However you choose to broach a weight discussion, remind your son that you’ve been there too. Acknowledge his thoughts, and always be as empathetic as possible. Make it clear that talking with him about his weight concerns and his weight’s impact on him isn’t meant as any sort of judgment. Perspective is critical, and it is vital to remind your son that with increased awareness in the medical community, there is now potential for him to experience successful change through improved treatment approaches for his obesity. There is a reason to hope that he won’t suffer like you.

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