Should we class obesity as a disease?

By on 25/06/2013 in Blog

Birmingham Public Health's Consultant Dietician and Senior Manager for Healthy Eating and Activity, Linda Hindle, reflects on the latest American move in the battle to beat obesity.

Last week, after years of campaigning, the American Medical Association voted to recognise obesity as a disease in a move that has split opinion in the States.

Supporters of the move say the new classification will influence policymakers to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity.

obesity imageOpponents say the new classification means future obesity strategies will focus more on treatment rather than preventative measures.

Of course we have our own obesity epidemic and I’m sure some will be pushing for a similar move here in the UK.

But is it the right thing to do?

Personally I agree this new classification may be helpful in encouraging health professionals to take obesity seriously and that can only be a good thing.

While obesity is caused by an imbalance between calories consumed and expended, essentially lifestyle, it has medical complications (such as diabetes, hypertension, raised cholesterol, joint problems) and is often made worse by medications or medical conditions.

We know that there is a genetic influence and emerging evidence suggests that hormonal triggers for hunger and fullness are very different in obese and non-obese people. Furthermore it is a chronic condition as the majority of obese people will always struggle with their weight even if they are able to lose weight.

But I think we must sound a note of caution here.

In most cases obesity is caused by lifestyle and the impact of the environment on our lifestyle. More often than not, early intervention is the key to success and this classification could lead individuals to take less personal responsibility as they seek a medical solution.

If that is the outcome we will no doubt see American obesity levels rise.

I’ll be watching developments with interest in the hope that we can take lessons – good and bad – from the latest chapter in the fight against obesity.

For more on the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of obesity:

So what do you think? Should we class obesity as a disease? Please comment below.

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There Are 2 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Nick Booth says:

    Is it more the issue that US drug companies lobby to have conditions registered as a disease to make it easier to advertise and sell drugs relating to such conditions? For example grief was recently classified as a mental illness in the USA – making it easier to sell medicine for grief directly to the public.

  2. Roger Harmer says:

    I think the problem with classifying it as a disease is, as you say, that people will then look for treatment from a professional, rather than taking personal responsibility for reducing their weight. Maybe we should think of obesity as a societal diesease requiring changes to the way our society relates to food. This might stimulate the stronger national action we need (such as better education about food and a tax on sugary drinks) to help reverse the rising tide of obesity.