Fat Cells

Is Obesity a Disease? 3 Answers

It’s been two years since the American Medical Association (AMA) declared that obesity a disease that merits medical attention. What has been the impact on thinking? The answer depends upon where you look and who you ask.

View of Obesity as a Medical ProblemIt’s fairly clear that the general public hasn’t shifted to viewing obesity primarily as a medical problem. ConscienHealth and the Obesity Action Coalition have been tracking how the public views obesity for some time now and the view that obesity is primarily a medical problem has been held by only 10-20% of the public since before the 2013 AMA decision, with no discernible trend. On the other hand, there are some signs of a shift away from personal blame, and toward viewing obesity as more of a community problem.

When radio station WHYY asked this question recently, they reported three distinct perspectives on the AMA decision that obesity is a disease:

  1. Really? Who treats it? Both in an informal sidewalk poll and in a recent study by Rebecca Puhl, it was pretty clear that the average person on the street had no awareness of AMA’s decision. “They asked if obesity has a cure, and wondered what kinds of doctors typically care for people with obesity,” reported Taunya English of WHYY.
  2. Makes sense. Folks who are aware and supportive of the decision are hopeful that it will open the door to more evidence-based and compassionate care for obesity — with health, not arbitrary weight goals, as the desired outcome.
  3. Don’t call me diseased. Fat acceptance activists equate obesity with body size alone, and not any health impact. “I’m fat,” said activist Kimberly Massengill, “but I no more have obesity than I have shortness.”

One thing is clear. As useful as BMI can be for epidemiology and screening, it wreaks havoc when people start equating BMI with a diagnosis of obesity. Rude people falsely think they can size up someone’s health just by looking at them.

Yes, obesity is a disease. But it’s a disease of impaired regulation of adipose tissue. It’s not a disease of appearance. Why is it so hard for people to get past appearances?

Click here to read more from WHYY.

Fat Cells, photograph © wellcome images / flickr

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3 Responses to “Is Obesity a Disease? 3 Answers”

  1. July 26, 2015 at 10:20 am, Dr. Naima Moustaid-Moussa, Professor in the Nutritional Scences Department in the College of Human Sciences at Texas Tech Unversity, Lubbock, Texas said:

    Yes, obesity is a complex disease that also increases the risk for many other diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Obesity is defined as excess accumulation of body fat which does not only result from overeating and sedentaty life style. Obesity can also run in families not just because of shared lifetyle habits but due to genetic predisposition or inherited mutations. Leptin deficiency is a good example of that. Lack of this protein (which is normally produced by the fat tissue) disrupts the body’s ability to regulate appetite and leads to uncontrolled eating and excess fat deposition. Other factors besides diet and physical activity such as viruses or environmental toxins may also contribute to obesity. Low socioeconomic status is associated with high prevalence of obesity, in part due to lack of safety in these neighborhoods, limited access to healthy foods, and/or parks and recreation areas that typically promote physical activity.
    Additional information can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Heart Association and the Obesity Society Web sites.

    • July 26, 2015 at 9:26 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks for your very thoughtful content!

  2. August 01, 2015 at 12:09 am, Dr Vivek Mantri said:

    Yes, It is a disease. Unusual accumulation of synthesized fats,because of slow metabolism is weight gain. Metabolism is a function of endocrine glands, especially Thyroid gland,Adrenal gland and pancreas. Hypo or hyper function of these glands directly affects the metabolism. For example, Hypo function of thyroid gland gains weight ,where as hypo or hyper function of Adrenal gland controls metabolism .Metabolism means rate of consumption of oxygen by cells for energy production. Slow rate surely will put on weight.. In another words obesity is a disease called “Hypo-metabolism”