Mandisa: A Rare Example of Obesity Noted as a Cause of Death

Mandisa Lynn Hundley was an American gospel and contemporary Christian recording artist. Known simply as Mandisa, her death on April 18 this year at the age of 47 was due to complications of class 3 obesity. Though obesity is quite common and its complications are frequent causes of death, Mandisa is a rare example of obesity noted as a cause of death in vital statistics. More often it fades into the background.

A 2017 analysis confirms this. “Vital statistics underestimate the contribution of obesity to mortality, especially when taking only the underlying cause of death into account,” wrote Magali Barbieri and colleagues. Their paper appeared in the International Journal of Public Health.

Medical Neglect and Stigma

Obesity medicine physician Katherine Saunders explained that the lack of serious medical attention to care for people living with obesity is quite a problem:

“While there is increasing recognition of obesity as a complex, heterogeneous, chronic disease, many people don’t realize how serious obesity is. Obesity is treatable, but it is massively undertreated.”

Millicent Gorham, CEO of the Alliance for Women’s Health and Prevention, said:

“Mandisa’s passing is a tragedy. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around obesity, and this heartbreaking event underscores the importance of recognizing obesity as the serious chronic disease it is, meaning there is no place for shame.”

Exceptionally Talented and Deeply Spiritual

Mandisa began her solo career as a contestant in the fifth season of American Idol finishing in ninth place. Her album Overcomer won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album. She was the fifth American Idol contestant to win a Grammy. She was exceptionally talented.

But she was also a deeply spiritual person who spoke openly about her faith and her personal struggles with depression and her weight. She described herself as “living in a lifestyle of pure indulgence, giving in to every single desire that I’ve had as far as what I’ve put into my body.” When she had success with weight loss, she she linked it to an insulting comment by Simon Cowell on American Idol. Mocking her success, he asked, “Do we have a bigger stage this year?”

Mandisa lost large amounts of weight through diet and exercise. But she regained that weight when suffering deep depression after the death of close friend. Self-blame and an exclusive reliance on diet and exercise are seldom sustainable solutions for class 3 obesity. They are certainly not a reliable prescription for good physical and mental health.

But for way too long, this was the prescription of popular culture. We hope that is fading into oblivion, where it belongs.

Click here, here, and here for more about the life and death of Mandisa.

Mandisa in 2009, photograph by Jyle Dupuis, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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June 7, 2024

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