3 Competing Views of Obesity as a Disease

Ted Kyle, David Katz, and Crystal Hoyt offer three competing views of obesity as a disease in this week’s lead story on Radio Health Journal.

  1. A complex chronic disease that requires good medical care and good choices for good health. Speaking on behalf of the Obesity Society, Kyle explained that obesity is a chronic disease and that “saying obesity is a disease is not a substitute for counseling people about the importance of good choices. That’s true whether you have have cancer, HIV, diabetes, heart disease, or obesity.”
  2. Drowning in a culture of obesity. Katz, Clinical Instructor in Medicine at Yale, explains his belief that “obesity is not a problem within us. It’s a problem all around us. We don’t think of drowning as a disease. We accept the fact that normal human bodies will drown if they stay in water too long.” He asserts that we are constantly swimming in a sea of surplus calories, without knowing how to do it.
  3. A diagnosis that instills futility and resignation. Crystal Hoyt used her research at the University of Richmond to support her view that if people are told obesity is a disease, they will conclude “I have a disease. Sorry, too bad, it’s in my genes. There’s nothing I can do about it.” Hoyt is an Associate Professor at Richmond.

The central problem with this debate is that people are far too eager to set up a false dichotomy. Either obesity is a disease and people have no say about their own health. Or, people just need to be smart enough to make good choices and change our culture of excess to eliminate the excess of obesity.

But obesity is a chronic disease. It has characteristic signs and symptoms, such as a high body mass index. Obesity impairs normal metabolic function that regulates weight. And it causes harm to virtually every body system, as well as premature death. These are stubborn truths that don’t care if we ignore them. So we may as well acknowledge the truth.

And we must also find ways to make healthy choices our norm.

Click here to listen to the Radio Health Journal story and click here to read more about about the study by Hoyt.

Drowning, image © Julia DeFoor / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “3 Competing Views of Obesity as a Disease”

  1. March 28, 2014 at 6:25 pm, Morgan Downey said:

    Michael Rosenbaum and Rudy Liebel observe that the disease of obesity is not ‘cured’ by weight loss because after weight loss reduced energy expenditure and increases in hunger persist. Rosenbaum, M, Leibel, R, Brain Reorganization following Weight Loss, Nestle Nutr Inst Workshop Ser. 2012;73:1-20.

    • March 29, 2014 at 5:53 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Morgn. Good reference, good point.