‘Silent second’ cause of mortality


George Hasara – Columnist

If asked what is the biggest substance abuse problem in America, opioids would be a top answer for many. However, there is a substance that is not only perfectly legal but essential to life. It’s that thing we all need and crave – food. Government health estimates rate obesity second only to tobacco, as a contributor to mortality. While annual drug overdoses are measured in tens of thousands of deaths, weight-related deaths are calculated in the hundreds of thousands. Roughly a third of the adult population is described as obese with another third falling into the overweight category. According to those statistics, individuals with “average” weight fall outside the average. Being heavy is not a “disorder,” nor should it be, but if it was, it would rival any addiction problem in its seriousness and complexity. The Center for Disease Control lists a series of symptoms for Opioid Use Disorder or OUD. Only two symptoms need to match in order for a possible designation of OUD. If “opioids” were replaced with “food” on that CDC list, millions would be diagnosed as having Food Use Disorder, or FUD. Here are a few of those CDC opioid descriptions slightly reworded: “Food is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.” “There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control use.” “Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use food.” “Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of food use.” Back in October, Congress outdid themselves in the acronym department by passing The Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act. As usual, the stated goal is commendable but the actual outcome is dubious. Voting to “combat the opioid epidemic” looks good on campaign literature. We live in a world in which sensationalism sells. If a health issue doesn’t have the word “epidemic” in its description, then we don’t have a real problem. For instance, the term “obesity epidemic” lags behind “opioid epidemic,” three million to 62 million in Google search results. Certainly, there are serious problems associated with drug use and the tragic loss of life should never be discounted. However, the consequences associated – individually and collectively – with obesity, fundamentally affect us all in a myriad of ways. I empathize with those who struggle with weight loss. There is no abstinence option. You can’t walk away or go “cold turkey” from food. And unlike certain drug addictions, there isn’t a food-like substance that you can consume to wean yourself off the hardcore caloric stuff. Some find strength and support teaming up with others, while some choose to face their battle solo. Weight loss and weight maintenance is a life skill of the highest order that can offer important insights into other forms of substance abuse. Contact George at georgehasara@yahoo.com.