Our patients are facing an epidemic. Left untreated, it can lead to severely debilitating conditions resulting in pain, suffering,
and expensive medical care. Fortunately, the problem is preventable and can usually be reversed with simple treatment. The
problem is obesity.
Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM
Here's the real question: Why aren't we talking about it? Every veterinarian and healthcare professional knows the story by
heart. We eat too much. We feed our pets too much food. We all get fat. We become sick and arthritic and develop other weight-associated
conditions and then undergo expensive medical treatments.
Obesity in people is a huge problem, of course. The American Medical Association estimates that 300,000 people die each year
in the United States because of poor diet and physical inactivity, both of which contribute to obesity. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention calculates that obesity-related problems cost our economy more than $75 billion each year. And our
pets are suffering a similar fate. Roughly 40 percent to 55 percent are classified as overweight, and one-third to one-half
of those are obese.
This is largely a modern problem. Obesity rates in the United States rose about 112 percent from 1970 to 2000. When I graduated
from veterinary school in 1992, pet obesity wasn't even discussed in the classroom. And with such a seemingly simple solution
for most pets and people—eat less and exercise more—you'd think we could reverse the trend. But the World Health Organization
estimates that the number of overweight adults will grow by 40 percent over the next 10 years. And we're likely to see the
same trend in the number of the plump pets visiting us.
Help study obesity in pets
It's time to speak out
The first step in improving pets' health and ending this epidemic is to talk about it. Why don't we?
Let's consider human medicine. In a 2004 study, more than 50 percent of obese people who did not undergo bariatric surgery
reported that their primary care physician "never" or only "once in a while" discussed their morbid obesity with them. One
reason physicians fail to counsel patients on obesity may be doctors' distrust of the available treatments. They see lots
of weight loss options and lots of overweight patients; one doesn't seem to make an impact on the other. Physicians are unlikely
to discuss weight loss plans that don't appear to work.
It's no different for veterinarians. We see lots of overweight pets and lots of diet foods and treatments, yet the number
of fat pets keeps growing. So we don't talk about it.
For some of us, our busy schedules and lack of training in weight-related disorders and nutrition hold us back. But no matter
the reason for our reticence, now is the time for us to learn about these issues and make time to talk to clients about them.