Should Obesity be Labeled as a Disease?

obese man's belly


The American Medical Association has been on our radar recently, and this week has made quite some headlines with a groundbreaking recommendation:

Obesity should be labeled a disease.

Why is this important? Until now, obesity has been considered a precursor to disease and was classified as a “condition”.

“We felt it’s time to take a stance and say we’re going to identify this as a disease,” AMA committee on public health member Douglas Martin, MD, told MedPage Today. “We think that’s going to send a message not only to the public but to the physician community that we really need to make it a priority and put it in our cross hairs.”

Will this new standing change anything in America?

We’re hopeful and doubtful at the same time. Hopeful because we’re seeing the medical community focusing on the source of of the most painful and costly diseases (diabetes for example). Doubtful because the companies that make the most money getting us fat and sick, don’t have to pay for our treatment. This financial disconnect between cause and effect is at the heart of the obesity problem.

Until public health policy begins to outsmart junk food marketers, we won’t see dramatic changes.

What do you think? Should Obesity be Labeled as a Disease?

  • Elaine

    No it shouldn’t be labeled a disease.By doing so it also encourages pharmaceutical companies to develop more prescription diet drugs thus boosting their sales. The obesity epidemic in our country will never be under control until we as a nation demand healthier food and it’s available to everyone.

  • Dee

    No–most of the time it is because people knowingly eat the foods they
    know they shouldn’t but do it anyway. Some eat until they almost throw
    it up especially at a buffet–then have so much left on the last plate
    they waste it. Kids today don’t play outside to get the exercise they
    need and some schools have done away with Physical education classes
    altogether. We have become a lazy society and it seems that a lot of
    overweight people just don’t care about being overweight. Those who
    have a MEDICAL condition do not fall in this category but still should exercise to help tone the body somewhat.

    • Brian Klein

      Some of the supposedly bad foods that people knowingly eat, but do it anyway are actually good for them. The government is giving out nutrition advice that works to help our agricultural systems. (Grains such as corn, soybeans and wheat.) In general these foods cause obesity and systemic inflammation. Some of the “bad” foods like butter and (sustainably raised) meat are actually quite healthy for most people, and help reduce obesity.

    • Cora Curry

      Don’t people who smoke do so with the same knowledge that it will cause a disease? Certainly smoking and overeating are both questions of choice and willpower. And there is no doubt that lung cancer is a disease.

      My knee-jerk reaction is to agree with most here — that this is NOT a disease. Yet on closer examination, it matches the criteria. The only possible distinction is that obesity is not necessarily a fatal disease, rather would lead to conditions that shorten life.

      Bottom line? I don’t think this is either a problem or a solution. It’s a perspective. And maybe telling people who are overweight or obese that this is an illness will help some — some — people make necessary changes.

  • transparency

    I agree with Diane about the pharmaceutical companies. They want us depending on their drugs for everything. But I only agree with the idea that people knowingly and willingly
    Make themselves fat and don’t care. I have found that the vast majority of Americans are oblivious to how deeply food choices effect not only their weight but the chemicals in their brain. We can’t just blame over eating and ignore that the chemicals in our foods wreak havoc on our systems. Causing our bodies to become
    Addicted the same way drugs do. And causing our bodies to react by attacking our systems and not working effiently. It even effects our behavior . sure there are articles to read and documentaries to watch but there us so much conflicting information that people get confused and give up. And many believe that its probably bad but not that bad because if it was that bad there would be laws against these fake foods. They would be banned. Others believe what I call the moderation lie.
    That if you eat it in moderation you are balanced and doing fine. But we are not fine. We as a public are grossly undereducated about the violent health risks these chemicals pose on our physical and mental health. What we need is for companies to be forced to stop shoving lies down our throats and be transparent. And we need education and affirmative action as to what we will accept and won’t. You may say its your choice and toa degree you stand correct. But if you are addicted to chemicals its no longer your choice, you’re fooling yourself.

    • transparency

      I meant I only agree to an extent but forgot to write that in. Apologies

    • Brian Klein

      Nicely said.

    • Monika

      Very well said. The chemicals in our food poison our health, and I have to add how irritating for me is, that except for one show – supersize vs superskinny, everyone focuses only on overweight and obese people, figuring that slim people eat right and are healthy. My stepson lived of kraft’s mac and cheese and hot dogs without buns every single day of every single week, he didnt enjoy big portins but everything he ate had to be artificial, he suffered from adhd-like symptoms, his skin was grey, he had circles under his eyes and frequent nightmares at night, he also had terriblr wind every since he woke up in the morning until the last second of the evening and had belly aches every single day. My husband used to be about 20 lb slimmer before he married me, he lived of store bought mini chicken pie for lunch, no breakfast, ice coffee and diet coke for drinks, no water, and if he planned to cook, it would be meatloaf, JUST meatloaf, no potatoes, no beans, nothing… He put on some weight when he started enjoying real food, veggies, low fat but lots and lots, full breakfasts on wholegrain bread, and even though he gained weight, his cholesterol went down and pay attention to this readers…. his MIGRAINES went AWAY, he suffered TERRIBLY, he used to throw up and bite on a pencil. All those dyes and preservatives did it to him. Everyone should be addressed about how bad is the fuel they put in their bodies, not just overweight and obese.

  • Karen Giangrosso

    Yes, do it! It will show America that it is something serious that needs to be dealt with. Obesity leads to so many health and self esteem problems.

  • Sonja Ahrens

    To be clear. If we say that obesity is a disease, then
    cigarettes, alcohol, and meth are diseases. This is not true. They are
    damaging, true, but they are not the disease. It’s not the food that
    makes you fat, it’s you eating the food that makes you fat. Own your crap. You built that ass. As a matter of fact, at 3500 calories per
    pound of fat above your daily requirement, you worked HELLA hard for it.
    I say this because I was that fat person and I know what it takes to shed 100 lbs. Addiction and self harm are how most Americans survive today. We hurt
    ourselves to stay alive. If you don’t believe me, ask 10 people you know
    to tell you everything they have put in their bodies in the last week.
    The answer will be clear. Over 66% of America is overweight or obese,
    but it is preventable, fixable, and above all, a choice. This is not a
    disease. Disease causes it and it causes disease. Simple as that.

  • mtheo

    Labeling obesity a disease doesn’t bring the problem to light it only relieves the obese person from responsibility over the condition. “I didn’t do this to myself! – I have a disease”!

  • Brian Klein

    Labeling obesity as a disease is problematic because they will dole out dietary advice that will make you obese, and then, like others have stated, you will need to take all kinds of pharmaceuticals. So labeling obesity as a disease may help our economy, but it will not make us a healthier nation.

    If our government labeled itself as a disease, maybe we would start to make headway…

  • jean

    Agreed there are concerns about where pharma companies would take this, however, as a “disease” it could force insurance companies to cover procedures, treatments and programs and resources that otherwise would not be covered. This could also help physicians help obese patients who are not covered for visits or treatment *until* they have another obesity – related disease.

    • the pharms feel like pushers

      The problem with treating it as a medical condition is it will almost always result in medication. We need more food education that doesn’t center itself on corn wheat and soy. Not a food pyramid but facts about labels and ingredients and how they affect us. We need holistic options and more education. Less drugs.

  • BrianNZ

    I’m fit and healthy because I make good choices and prioritize. Yes, there are the occasional medical issues that cause someone to be obese beyond one’s good choices, but mostly it’s all the result of a bunch of bad choices.

    …or so it seems to me. :)

  • luminair

    No because there will be a tendency to stigmatise people unnecessarily. Education is important but not in order to shame and blame. Persecuting people who are overweight is not a healthy way to fix things. It’s a well known fact that exercise is most important part of staying healthy along with a good diet. It’s also known that people who are overweight and exercise can be a lot healthier than those who are not overweight and do not exercise regularly. I am overweight and over 60 yrs of age. I’m careful with my diet, eating healthy most times and go for walks most days. I have a disability that prevents me from doing too much but I am happy and grateful with my lot in life as it is these days. I don’t need society to make my life any more complicated or harder because it doesn’t approve of my size!

  • Michele Hays

    Labeling obesity as a disease will probably increase weight stigma instead of decreasing it. Note how much anti-weight bias there is just in the comments section of this post alone. Stigma does not help anyone’s health – in fact, as it stands, obese – and sometimes simply “overweight” – people frequently do not receive the same level of healthcare as everyone else just because of their size.

    Overweight people also face discrimination at school and in the workplace – . Even though it is possible to be obese and face no other health risks (it is possible to be obese and metabolically healthy,) as a culture we assume that people who show visible fat are “making poor choices,” “driving up the cost of healthcare,” and are otherwise “responsible for their condition.”

    These false assumptions often drive other totally unrelated damaging assumptions – a New York professor recently told his obese candidates that they “don’t have the willpower to do a dissertation.” Kids in a UK study who were shown an overweight storybook character said the heavier character was “less likely to win a race, do good school work, be happy with the way he looks, get invited to parties, and more likely to be naughty at school.”

    We really need to take a close look at how we are framing this discussion. Good nutrition and being physically active are important for everyone of every size or shape. Conversely, bad metabolic health can happen to any size or shape of person.

  • Anonymous

    It paints the obese as victims instead of allowing them to be responsible for their own wellness.

  • VT

    I think everyone would benefit from reading “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” Pure, good quality food and walking for exercise. Unless you have a real medical problem that is preventing you from losing weight, the formula is simple = eat less calories than you burn and the weight will come off. If food is an addiction, then seek professional help.

    • Robert

      If only it were really that simple. Unfortunately this concept has been proven wrong time and time again. Body chemistry is way more complicated than that.

  • cruznv

    Absolutely not…. It would give these people one more reason to keep over eating & not trying to get back to a healthy weight….. Next they’ll be wanting some kind of subsidy or allowance from the government…..
    You are what you eat….. So do something about it…..stay away from junk & processed foods, soda & get exercising……