Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Obesity of Americans--and Nurses

It appears that the American Medical Association has decided to designate obesity as a disease. So, if one in three Americans is now classified as being obese, does that mean that one in three nurses is obese as well?

Research shows that the causes of obesity are multifactorial, so it seems to make sense to reclassify it so that insurance companies will presumably pay for treatment and prevention more readily. I would hope that this move by the AMA pays off in terms of available treatment--as well as even more increased attention to what amounts to a crisis of public health.

We've now firmly established that obesity rates are high--and getting higher--in the United States. There are apparently genetic and environmental issues at play, and we can all likely acknowledge that fast food, prepared foods, and the adding of sugar to just about everything also serve to make us fatter. It's also clear that many Americans exercise less, eat more, and have a multitude of risk factors for this newly classified disease process.

Nurses as Role Models

When it comes to nurses, we can probably extrapolate that, as a profession, we mirror the overall statistics and probably collectively reflect them as a group. Therefore, it may be safe to say that one-third (or thereabouts) of nurses may be obese, or at least overweight.

Everyone knows that I champion self-care and wellness for nurses under the auspices of Nurse Keith Coaching, and I feel that nurses can serve as role models for their patients and clients. Now, I would never intimate that every nurse has to be fit and trim in order to communicate notions and practices of healthy living to the general public. However, we nurses are respected and trusted by many Americans (just look at the annual Gallup poll), and if we appear to practice what we preach, we may be better positioned to positively influence the public in this regard.

I don't believe in discrimination against people who are obese--and this includes nurses--especially if we are now viewing obesity within the disease model rather than simply as a failure of lifestyle or will power.

It Begins With Ourselves

As a coach, I feel a responsibility to walk my own talk, living the type of healthy, balanced life that I encourage my clients to also create for themselves.

Likewise, as a nurse, I also feel that I carry a societal responsibility to be a role model for children and adults alike, and I see myself as representing the profession in my interactions with others.

I'm in no way perfect on any level, but I strive to live a life of purpose, health and balance, and my hope is that my behavior and personality can have a positive effect on others, either directly or indirectly.

The Impact of Obesity on Nursing

Aside from our impact on others, obesity obviously has an effect on nursing itself. Obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, sleep disorders, peripheral vascular disease, as well as a host of other symptoms. Thus, one would assume that obese nurses may take more sick days, require more medical interventions, and be in generally poorer health than their non-obese colleagues.

With the aging of the population, nurses are going to be increasingly relied upon to care for the population on both the inpatient and outpatient level, and being a healthy workforce is definitely in everyone's favor.

The Personal Is Powerful

Have you ever heard the saying that "the personal is political"? Well, that may be true to a large extent, but I also believe that the personal is also powerful. Our personal choices, our lifestyle, our health, our well-being--these are powerful statements, both to ourselves and to others.

My greatest wish is for nurses to view their own health as their greatest asset. If an obese nurse decides to turn his obesity around, my hope is that he'd make that lifestyle decision based on his own needs and desires. That said, he could, of course, also use his own experience to inform the ways in which he works with patients, and also in terms of cultivating compassion for those in similar circumstances.

The Microcosm and the Macrocosm

The rise in obesity impacts us all in many ways, including--but not limited to--public health and healthcare costs. Nurses are well-positioned to have an enormous impact on Americans' way of life and well-being in the 21st century, and it's my hope that more and more nurses will see how their own health is as important as the health of any client or patient.

We are the microcosm and macrocosm. Perhaps the labeling of obesity as a disease will assist many of us to take our health even more seriously, change our lifestyle for the better, and join the ranks of those who wish to live as long as possible, as healthily as possible, and influence others along the way to do the same.
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