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Should Obesity Be Classified as a Disease?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Yesterday, at their annual meeting, the American Medical Association decided to classify obesity as a disease. They hope this change will help doctors to better treat the complex condition and aid in the fight against type 2 diabetes and heart disease. While The New York Times reports that the AMA's decision has no legal authority, some medical professionals think the outcome will result in sweeping changes. 
Proponents of the decision say that this could help people get coverage for obesity treatments from their insurance companies, just as insurance companies provide coverage for other health conditions. Others worry that because the tool most commonly used to measure obesity, the BMI chart, is flawed, that recognizing obesity as a disease won't result in better treatment for patients.
A small debate has already started in the health and medical community about this news, as well as on the SparkPeople Message Boards and members are divided. One member noted that while she thinks it's too early in our understanding of obesity to classify it as a disease, this change might help remove some of the stigma overweight people face and make it easier for them to seek help. Another member calls the decision "ridiculous" because she thinks people will use the designation as an excuse not to make lifestyle changes.
While it's much too early to really know how this shift may affect insurance coverage for obesity treatments, it's nice to think that doctors might change their approach to dealing with obese patients. Instead of just telling them to lose weight or to simply eat less and exercise more (standard advice many people receive without any real support or resources to make it happen), maybe obese patients will receive better interventions and treatment plans that really work.

Take our poll: Do you think obesity should be classified as a disease?

What do you think? Should obesity be classified as a disease? Do you think this decision will result in positive or negative changes?

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RIYUSHAN 2/26/2020
Obesity is a medical condition that starts when a person carries weight and body fat that affect their health. Obesity occurs from high fat and extra weight in our body. To avoid obesity we need to consult a doctor and get a healthy diet for a healthy lifestyle and feel free from obesity. Thanks for such a great blog.
Yes, obesity is disease but we can get rid of this. The best way to fight with obesity is Natural or Ayurveda treatment. Report
Obesity is a complex disorder involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn't just a cosmetic concern. It increases your risk of diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.

There are many meds available at online pharmacy stores for Obesity treatment mygenericpharmacy.com is the one that i know. Report
Hi I am writing a proposal for my english class and I have chosen to study and research the topic of obesity with depression. I am so glad I found this blog post by Meghan Patrick, "Should Obesity Be Classified as a Disease?". What a great question to bring up to the world today. I believe it is so important that the world today sees this as a problem. Before reading this blog I was 100% with obesity being considered a disease. After reading I would still have to agree somewhat, but do have the thought of how Meghan said in her post that people may make excuses being called a disease to not make any changes. It really changed my thought process on this topic, I could see the benefits from both sides. I believe this is an overall great post, there can definitely be more evidence for each side to be able to support and gain more knowledge on if it should or shouldn't be called a disease. the logic of it is great being able to find more emotion to the topic and see the importance of how we can help people around the world overcome this problem would make both sides of the opinion of it being a disease a lot easier to handle. We always have to remember that everyone will always have their opinion especially on such a sensitive topic. Being able to overcome this and struggle that many people have will motivate and help many live happier lives. Report
Hello, my name is nour I am French I am obese I weigh 120 kilos on a size of a master 65 my husband my advise to do an operation for obesity I read an article about an operation sleeve.


please help me to make the right decision. Report
Without some type of classification, insurance companies will pay nothing to treat patients that are obese. So this is a good thing, and no one should be offended or say people will do nothing to change their lifestyle. Report
I weighed in on this in the forum discussion. The quick point I'd like to make here is that not all obesity is the result of overeating and not exercising. Obesity is often a symptom of another serious condition, a side-effect of medication being taken for another serious condition or as a preventative measure, or family genetics. In those cases, it is not the fault of the obese person that they have a condition which causes weight gain, or that they must take medicine that could have the side-effect of making them gain weight. It is also not their fault that their family genetics predispose them to hovering primarily in a certain weight range.

We often classified issues not caused by the person's behaviors as diseases, conditions or syndromes that require treatment. Why then would we not classify obesity in the same way? What would be a logical reason (not emotional one or an assumption made about the person's lifestyle) for not classifying it as a disease? Report
While obesity itself may or may not meet the technical definition of a "disease" (I think it would more appropriately be classified as a "syndrome"), giving it official status as such will give providers "justification" (through insurance, etc) to treat obesity and work with patients to find the causes and remedies. Obesity itself is probably a "syndrome" in that it can have many causes and is more a cluster of symptoms rather than a singular disease process like a virus or cancer. Whether or not the term used is accurate, though, is less important than the fact that being labeled as something medical in nature puts it in the arena of issues to be actively targeted by providers. A "disease" is more likely to be considered something a doctor is responsible to address than is a "lifestyle". Report
Food can be addictive just like alcohol, heroine, or any other drug. I think that obesity should be treated as an addiction. Addiction IS a disease. I'm not saying that people will not try to use it as an excuse, and an addict can only be helped when they're ready to put in the effort. But when we start to treat obesity like an addiction, I think treatment for it would be greatly improved. And that treatment would be covered by most insurances under the mental and behavioral health coverage. Report
The problem I see here is that I feel like the answer to this is "it depends". Would I consider obesity a disease for someone who eats healthy, exercises, does everything "right" and either loses weight very slowly or doesn't lose it at all; or when it's an addiction or an eating disorder like bulimia - yeah probably.

Would I consider it a disease for people who sit around and eat chips and soda all the time and who, when they do decide to change their lifestyle, lose it pretty easily - nope.

But that's probably too hard to distinguish, especially since most doctors think we're all in the 2nd category and are just lying about it. Report
I believe it is a disease. I worked with A Dr. that made all addictions his main focus in treatment.
Once a person reaches a certain level of dependency on food, wrong foods, it's a struggle that can be compared to any other addiction.
Spiritually is it sin like some refer to alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.?
I am judging myself, as I am now 204.
Thankfully, I am on the road to recovery, before I developed health problems, other than the obesity itself.
I think we're missing a vital link in this whole idea of obesity. Don't know whether it's a disease or not, but do know that even when my food diary is right on I still have trouble. And I think that has a lot to do with food itself. There are so many chemicals, etc., in food that can affect our bodies. When will the food manufactures be challenged to take OUT the stuff that they know full well may be contributing to our inability to shed pounds? Report
Imagine if there were known carcinogens in our kids schools and they did nothing about it. The whole school system would get put on trial for giving kids cancer! If obesity is now a disease this is exactly what they are doing with poor food, no nutrition education, and very little physical education classes! We are developing a future generation where the majority are overweight and many will have health problems. Our kids generation will be the first to die at a younger age than their parents. We've got to do something about this! Report
I am encouraged by the AMA's decision to treat obesity as a disease, rather than a lifestyle choice made by those who are weak, lazy, gluttonous, etc. I hope that calling it a disease may remove some of the stigma from those of us who suffer from it. We don't yet understand a lot of things about obesity, but research is repeatedly showing that obesity is complicated by hormonal levels, that obese people respond to hunger-regulating hormones in different ways than those who aren't obese, and that abdominal fat acts as an "organ" itself in secreting different levels of hormones. So in a sense, this is no different than diabetes, where there is a malfunction of insulin production or usage--yet we have no problem classifying diabetes as a disease, and rise up in self-righteousness when someone proposes that obesity is a disease. To those who suggest that labelling your weight problem as a disease will take away the motivation to make changes and lose weight, I call bull****. After all, virtually every other disease requires lifestyle change as part of its management. We expect people with chronic lung disease to quit smoking, diabetics to follow a number of dietary and activity changes, people with heart disease to eat a heart healthy diet and exercise, people with liver problems to stop drinking, etc--and to those who have "obesity" we also promote lifestyle change. Acknowledging that those who have obesity do have special needs and challenges related to their condition may help them to seek help without stigma, and promote the change that is needed. Also, if we perceive obesity as a chronic condition requiring lifelong management, perhaps it will help people to get off the diet merry-go-round and recognize that they need to make permanent changes--just like the diabetic who needs to continue taking his insulin and following his diet even when his blood sugars are well controlled. I say hurray for the AMA. Report
Obesity has many causes rooted in a myriad of deeper issues. Sometimes it is a disease in itself and sometimes it is symptomatic of another disease. There is no singular cause of obesity, there cannot be one cure. Report
What I think is that we need to start bringing nutrition education to our nation's schools. I know that I could have really benefitted from this teaching when I was young, and understand that my choices could lead to bad situations. My parents never taught me, because they themselves didn't know. It's up to us, now that we know better, to teach our kids that we need to learn things not only for our minds, but our bodies as well. There's a good start in pushing fruit and veggie consumption on television and educational programs, but I think it really should be an actual mandated course in schools.

Is obesity a disease? I think it is, but it's a comorbid disease - that is, it's a symptom of a more serious, underlying problem. For me that was depression -once my depression and all of the problems that caused it was treated, I could then begin on losing the weight and educating myself. I had to care in order to do something about it. Report
I'm not sure if obesity is a disease or not. I do know that a friend and I have been going to the gym regularly (3-5 days a week) since the end of May 2013. We have each lost approx. 12 pounds. We've both been watching our diets as well.

We each have health problems that may be contributing - I'm hypothyroid and my friend started out as border line diabetic - that designation has now been eliminated but she still has some health problems.

Our next step is to join a weight loss program and see if that helps (Tops). I'm also going to visit a naturopath this week to see if that can help.;

We've started doing what's needed, but still have a long way to go. If a Dr. could help, that would be welcome so long as I don't get another pill that causes weight gain - I already have 3 that do that. Report
This is an interesting Ted Talk, certainly gave me food for thought. Obesity may be a symptom rather than a disease, but a symptom of what? A weak character, or a physiological problem?
Yay, ALYSSINABUBBLE, well put!

While we're at it, let's classify 'speeding' as a disease and solve that problem too.

Heavens to goodness, what happened to personal responsibility? Report
My opinion on this varies. I think that obesity has a lot to do with your emotions and mental state so I to me it seems like more of a mental disorder that shows physically- like the weight is a symptom. But if classifying it as a disease causes more doctors to be educated on nutrition and prevention then we should definitely take that step. Report
Some of the people leaving comments should be ashamed of themselves.
Calling people gluttons and lazy is not going to help anyone whether you think obesity is a disease or not!

In some cases, obesity is caused from an eating disorder. Anorexia and Bulimia are classified as diseases so why wouldn't obesity be? All eating disorders start in the mind.

Some people struggle with their weight because of autoimmune or endocrine issues. Anti-depressants can cause weight gain too. Of course, some people need to eat healthier and exercise but obesity is not just necessarily from laziness.

A lot of people struggle with their weight and that is not necessarily from poor choices. If people realized that there is more to obesity than needing willpower, it could potentially help a lot of people.

If anorexia is a disease then why not obesity?
In any case, hopefully this will mean better treatment and better outcomes for people. Report
I couldn't agree more with KKDALE22. I was going to leave a comment but I think she said it perfectly. Report
I feel like this is almost impossible to answer. I think there are people out there who genuinely need help losing weight and that classifying obesity as a disease would really help them. On the other hand, I think there are more people out there that will use this as an excuse to stay fat. The people on their little motorized carts driving through walmart filling up on box dinners and snack cakes, they don't have a disease; they have lazy (is lazy going to become a disease next? Where do we draw the line?). I also wonder how this is going to affect everything else. Will people on food stamps get more money if the have obesity? Or will food stamps become more like WIC and you can only buy so much of certain things. Are obese people going to get help and treatment? And by treatment I mean learning to eat healthy and exercising not some magic pill. A few months ago I was obese and now I'm just overweight. I stopped eating crap and started working out. I didn't have a disease. I had laziness. I'm afraid classifying this as a disease is going to cause the rise of obesity in America. Report
I believe it is a disease just like alcoholism is a disease. I have seen way too many people, who are normal or low weight, who can eat any overweight person under the table and still remain a normal weight. This is a disease that people who have it, will need to learn that they will always need to watch their food intake and activity level much more closely than the normal weight person. Report
I believe that obesity for some people is a disease. But it's a disease created by our food industry. I am worried about the reclassification, because, I'm sure that instead of lifestyle changes (diet, exercise) being the first course of action, Big Pharma will find a way to turn it into a big payday for themselves (drugs, medical devices, etc.). This is a good first step, but not a solution. Report
I do not believe obesity is a disease. There are many reasons someone may be obese or overweight, making it one of many symptoms that can point to other problems. Obesity is a result of other things going wrong, be it lack of exercise or a thyroid problem. Whatever it may be, I feel the AMA got it wrong this time. Report
My husbands doc got tired of telling him to loose weight, so just told him to read Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease by Esselstyn . Bonus reading is the China Study. We went vegan over a year ago. He lost 55 lbs, me 25. Now working out as well, but being so low fat, and loosing the bulk by diet, it's so much easier to move on to fitness. It was hard at first, but once you know you can't eat meat or dairy, it becomes very simple. No counting calories, points, or anything, just skip the meat and dairy, and oil. It is extreme, but worked for us. Could be a lady resort for those facing the obesity disability hallenge Report
I think of obesity as a symptom to a problem. There may be physical/medical issues that cause people to gain/maintain weight or may simply be a decadent/sedentary lifestyle. I think part of the answer is to identify and minimize the triggers and build a healthy lifestyle. Report
I don't believe obesity itself is a disease. It is more of a social disease or a snow ball result of other medical conditions. With the right tools and education people don't have to be obese in most cases. With social change, education and a determination, I believe most obese people can change their outcome. It is not about diets. It is about life style changes that we must adopt to lead healthier lives. Report
I believe that while obesity can lead to diseases, I don't feel that it is always a persons fault for being obese. I believe alot of our problems lie with the food we put in our bodies that are GMO's, growth hormones given to cattle and such, pesticides, these were not meant for our bodies to ingest. If you look at the labels of the foods we eat, how many of the ingredients can you pronounce let alone know what they are. All the hidden sugars and dyes. So in a way I'm glad they did this. We need to let the food industry know that we do not like having our food messed with. Maybe the insurance companies will start letting Dr.s prescribe gym's and nutrionists instead of pills. Just my thought. Report
Labels are funny things that can either inspire or depress people. Does a word define who a person is? Let's hope not, yet society has placed another onus on the word OBESE and mad it ugly. The weightcharts vary from Md to MD but those of us overweight no matteer to what degree know it and we either choose to do something about it or we don't. Often times it may be a financial burden to "eat healthy" as fresh fruit and vegetables are expensiveand don't stretch enough to feed a hungry family like pasta and potatoes.

If calling obesity a disease gets more folks to the doctor, then maybe it's a good thing. Maybe checking into an Obesity clinic for 30 days will start the process into a healthier lifestyle and it will be covered by insurance. If it is an acxcepted disease.then stomach banding or stapling will be a covered surgery and drive down the outrageously high costs for those who choose it. And let's not forget the cosmetic surgical expenses of removing the hanging stretched skin from dramatic weight loss.

Insurance companies and the diet pill/supplement industry will not be happy campers so expect a huge fight over this one. Report
No, is my answer, there is almost always an underlying cause, be it medications, thyroid, or just plain. eating more calories than you burn daily. Report
Yep, STANSTR's message 105 pretty much hit the nail on the head with the definitions of disease. I remember the before and after of alcoholism's disease status. Before, people with alcoholism were often viewed with disgust (like obese people today). Today, it's not uncommon for anyone to share their struggles with alcoholism and receive lots of support and understanding. If classifying obesity as a disease can result in similar helpful environments, I am all for it! Report
I would love to take the magic pill and make my weight go away. But just like high blood pressure there are typically other factors to consider. And the side effects of the phara to consider as well. What are the ramifications for ins. Companies to now cover "treatment" and what will the trickle down cost be for the average American to cover in some social hidden cost? I hope that they have considered everything. I agree its a symptom not a disease. But sadly, after all, we really only treat symptoms anyway.
I love Jon Gabriel for saying that weight can be an emotional issue not a physical one. Report
Not at all not a disease in my book Report
I think obesity is more of a symptom than a disease because it can have many causes. It is not a single disease. My most recent run-up in weight was caused by something other than calories-in/calories-out. It's as if my metabolism broke. I just added a new medication for blood pressure; and now I've got a ravenous appetite, I'm feeding that appetite, and I'm losing weight. Go figure.

Something to consider: if obesity itself is considered the disease rather than a symptom, medical providers may be less likely to determine true cause and treat it appropriately. Report
Obesity can be a result of disease, or it can be a cause of disease. In itself, obesity is a condition of severe overweight that may be either temporary or permanent. Report
At first glance, I would not call obesity a disease - then I had to ask myself, just what is a disease?

Miraim-Webster dictionary defines disease as, "A condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms."

Wikipedia says,
"A disease is an abnormal condition that affects the body of an organism. It is often construed as a medical condition associated with specific symptoms and signs. It may be caused by factors originally from an external source...

In humans, "disease" is often used more broadly to refer to any condition that causes pain, dysfunction, distress, social problems, or death to the person afflicted, or similar problems for those in contact with the person. In this broader sense, it sometimes includes injuries, disabilities, disorders, syndromes, infections, isolated symptoms, deviant behaviors, and atypical variations of structure and function...

Diseases usually affect people not only physically, but also emotionally, as contracting and living with many diseases can alter one's perspective on life, and their personality."

That sure sounds like it doesn't even merit a discussion. Obesity IS a disease. Report
I think that classifying obesity as a disease is like classifying the itchy spots associated with chicken pox as a different disease than the fever. Obesity is a symptom of something wrong -- whether the person has control over that thing or not -- and is not a disease in itself.

While I am glad that people are talking about it and that it has been identified as an issue, I think that classifying it as its own disease is going to make it more difficult to actually identify the underlying cause. Especially if that cause happens to be something related to the environment (BPA, pollution, microwaves--who knows???). A lot has changed since the 1950s--and not just our collective pants size. I don't think saying that all obese people have the same disease is productive. Report

This is a link to a video I watched today on this topic... it is opening up a lot of thought in this area.
I don't know if obesity is the disease or not, but I am so happy that more research and discussion is being done on the topic. Report
Why should obesity be considered a disease? It's something that you control. You can avoid being obese by living an active lifestyle and eating well. Report
My husband passed away due to heart disease and diabetes complications and the doctor listed obesity as a cause on his death certificate. I was upset because I do not consider obesity a disease. Report
Just an FYI for all who are talking insurance, they have been using obesity for a long time to deny health insurance so this won't really change anything. I know obesity can be a bad cycle for many and it is extremely hard for many to manage eating and their lives. Personally it is finally working out for me but it took a lot of changes in my life to help me focus on me. I only wish the best for everyone facing this difficult part of their lives and keep trying as I did and one day it will all come together and wow what a difference it can make. Report
I don't like the idea of calling Obesity a disease. I already have depression and Obesity written on my chart. Why make the fact that I am five foot two and weight 170 pounds a disease? I can pass any other part of a physical with numbers in the normal range. So, I want to see myself as healthy rather than as mentally ill and fat.
Also, I think people get overweight for a variety of reasons. I think mine happened very gradually. I left high school's cross country team and track team but continued to eat the same amount of calories. Then, my metabolism seems to have shifted down around the age of thirty. I got had a full fledged depression episode. I kept eating when hungry, bored or anxious but spent too much time staring at walls. Depression makes you get lost in your mind and not move at times.
So, I get tired of my doctor giving advice that everyone knows every time I see her. "Slip some exercise into your day." I walk and stand at work a lot. My fitbit says that I did 14,000 steps yesterday. My knee hurts and my heel hurts. I get to where I dread seeing my doctor because of this annoying behavior. I am worried that this classification change will make it worse. If a doctor offered a telephone coach that could encourage me when I need it, maybe I would like the change more. But, what treatments are they willing to offer a person who is obese but doesn't appear fat in the eyes of society? Report
A disease? Yes. If we can label alcoholism as a disease then obesity is one. An addiction to food instead of alcohol. We all need to take a long hard look at what is going on in our world with "food". Our children are eating way too much and not exercising and not spending enough time out doors. We had better start soon it has become a huge problem. Personally I think labeling it as a disease is a step in the right direction, but not the answer to the problem. Report
Obesity is not a "disease" like the flu or cancer, but I don't have a problem with labeling it as a disease. It's a cumulative thing, yes it's self-inflicted but so is smoking, which leads to lung cancer. Obesity can also lead to cancer, as well as diabetes, which is DEFINITELY a disease. I don't know if calling obesity a disease will help or not, but we SURELY need better treatments for the disease/condition. If it were really as simple as "eat less, exercise more," then I don't think 1/3 of our population would really be obese. There are many reasons why people are obese, some (like my hubby) have developed metabolic disorder which needs to be treated. And so many times the pills that are supposed to help people lose weight are so dangerous they have to be taken off the market! And as far as the insurance goes, do you think that obese people are not currently affecting your rates??? OF COURSE they are, just like the smokers and drinkers. I think that argument is irrelevant. Report
the only really good thing I can hope for to come out of this is that it will help with litigation against food companies that continue to poison people with sh!t they call 'food'.
by definition, it is a disease: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diseas

It is very interesting to me that a lot of people here think that once something is called a disease they are no longer responsible. Report
I am torn on this. If drug/alcohol addiction are called diseases and anorexia/bulimia are both diseases, then what is the difference with obesity being a disease? I know someone who does eat healthy and can not lose weight. with her arthritis she can't move around like she would desire. She was taking DNA shots because the doctor told her that yes it is in her DNA. She did lose some weight with this shot, but not like they wanted. Overall, I do agree with another disease to raise our healthcare cost. However, it doesn't make sense to me that certain conditions are considered diseases and others are not when they are all psychological "defects" (for lack of a better word) Report
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