Obesity as a Disease?? | AMA Council


Obesity is hard to define and diagnose, and partly because of that is not a disease

Apparently there are still groups out there that feel, and want to re-define, obesity as a disease????

I gasped when I read this article today. Really? Obesity as a disease?? Now we all have to go back to medical terminology 101 and re-learn the definitions of disease, condition, disorder, illness, etc. Is the current obesity epidemic going to be grossly affected by terminology people?

“I would like to move away from the tyranny of ‘Is it a condition or is it a disease?’ and simply define obesity as a chronic disease, combine public health and clinical approaches, and work to bend the weight curve in the U.S.”


You think that simply changing the definition we’ll start changing the way we treat and address obesity?


I for one think it’s ridiculous. To define obesity as a disease gives someone a fallback or a cop-out as to why their health is failing. Obesity didn’t nor does not ‘happen’ to you. You’re not born with it, you acquire it over time. Something that is entirely in your control. The severity of one’s obesity is determined by their own choices. Period.

Of course each person’s choices are different and some will be excessively tougher than others, but it’s still their choice. Obesity is not a disease. Sorry.

Those in support of the council report not calling obesity a disease noted obesity rates have risen along with sugar intake in diets and reduced activity — which are not indicative of a disease. If obesity is called a disease, they said employers would have to give obese workers special considerations.

“We cannot say just because you are obese you will experience harm and morbidity from this, and that is part of a definition of a disease,” said AMA public health council member Ilse Levin, DO, of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Defining obesity as a disease will do little to actually change treatment management, she continued. “In this case, I don’t really see how it will at this point.”

Changing the definition to a disease could have negative public health consequences and worsen the epidemic, others argued.

“I believe telling people they have a disease allows people to throw up their arms and surrender and do nothing,” Texas delegate Russ Kridel, MD, said.

Payers already recognize obesity as a serious medical condition and Medicare covers bariatric surgery, he said, noting that people with a BMI greater than 40 can be considered disabled if it’s called a disease.

 I’d love to hear your thoughts. Will re-defining obesity as a disease and not just a ‘condition’ change anything? Will it help beat this epidemic, or is it just another side-step? 

Via Obesity Not a Disease, AMA Council Says

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12 thoughts on “Obesity as a Disease?? | AMA Council

  1. It seems like the move to classify certain conditions (obesity, addiction, some psychological conditions) as diseases comes from an intention to create a “place” in the system where those people can get more help. That’s a good thing.

    But I think when people start thinking that way, it creates other problems, such as making it easier for people to avoid their own share of the responsibility in creating their condition. Yes, some people gain weight (or become addicted to things, or become traumatized) more easily than others. And yes, some can’t help it (no one will ever hold a soldier who has seen battle “responsible” for acquiring PTSD). But knowing how one’s body works, figuring out how to keep it healthy, and resisting unhealthy urges can certainly reverse the process of becoming morbidly obese, whereas someone with cancer doesn’t have such an easy path to being “disease free.” I think this is a huge difference between obesity and a “disease.”

    Besides, classifying something like obesity as a disease puts the focus on the treatment of the condition once it’s already present, and that’s an uphill battle. It does nothing to address the source of the problem, which would be a much better use of effort.

    1. Thank you for your comment Pat, you seemed to have put my feelings into words much better than I ever could have. Well said. I couldn’t agree more with the analogy of cancer. I wonder how this new ‘classification’ will affect the overall impact obesity has wreaked on our society. I guess time will tell.

  2. You know, are a nurse I would expect you to not be so ignorant. You have never had to deal with obesity clearly. Yes, I clearly WANT to be fat…Yes, I clearly ENJOY the stares and snide comments made about me (including strangers who enjoy blogging about what how lazy I am and what a problem I am to society as a whole)…and YES, I clearly love the fact that even when I go on Weight Watchers (following the diet to the absolute letter…I used to be anorexic, I’m great at dieting) after three months I only lose ten pounds. Which, as a nurse, you hopefully know means, losing 2.2 lbs a week, I SHOULD be able to lose 22+ pounds. Yes, you are right, I am CLEARLY the problem. Thank God there are people like you who are always right and so able to set the rest of the world straight! Without you, were would the world possibly be?!

    1. Thank you for leaving a comment about this difficult and currently hot topic. I don’t think sarcasm will solve any of our problems, but thank you for contributing to the conversation.

      1. Yes, Sean, condemnation and frank scorn for an entire group of people is clearly more of a solution.

  3. Classifying obesity as a disease is meant to get obese people the help they need within the medical system.

    As for obesity being something a person can control…
    What about people who have been obese since childhood? Or all the environmental factors like bottle feeding in infancy and the advertisement? What about food addiction?

    Obesity has only recently (in the last 2 generations) become a problem in north american society. People haven’t changed that much in 2 generations, but the food we can afford and have access too has changed. Also, our activity level has decreased. Some rich, health conscious people can make up for sedentary jobs by going to the gym, but many people simply do not have the time, resources or knowledge to be able to exercise regularly.

    Once a person is obese the only well researched effective long term treatment for them is bariatric surgery. Yes, obese people can go do the herculean effort to lose weight, but within 4-5 years, it’s back. See section 5.8 of this WHO document http://libdoc.who.int/trs/WHO_TRS_894.pdf .

    There was once a similar discussion about depression and ptsd. Stigma for these is still present but has decreased because of their designation as a disease, the stigma has been significantly decreased (At least with in the medical community).

    1. Hmm. All very interesting points of discussion. Ironically all your examples STILL end in personal responsibility. And I believe you can be born ‘overweight’, but you become obese. Yes, we’re splitting hairs here on definitions, but isn’t that the whole point of my post?
      And the last time I checked obesity happens just as often in the ‘rich’, once again personal responsibility.

  4. Well, start ### about anorexia and bulimia. Let’s also include combat PTSD. And Gulf War syndrome.

    Oh, and I especially love body dysmorphia that results in low body fat, extremely high BMIs and whole body shaving/depilidation. Because all those folks definitely have no issues at all and deserve no help, even when the body dysmorphia interferes with their relationships of the ones they truly love and enjoying life. We should never ever waste energy on people who could be helping themselves.

    1. I can appreciate your passion concerning this topic (please keep the language clean). I believe you’re on the right track though, obesity is not an affliction you acquire. We need to choose out battles more wisely.

  5. Definitely a sidestep. Part of our cop-out culture; removes personal responsibility.

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