Call Obesity What It Is: a Disease
Obesity has numerous causes beyond an individual's control
June 27, 2013
The American Medical Association's recognition of obesity as a disease aligns perfectly with the science of obesity prevention and treatment. By acknowledging that obesity is a health problem, not an image or character problem, the AMA joins obesity experts on the path to resolve this health challenge based on the science and evidence of what works.
This recognition is nothing new. Along with other groups, The Obesity Society, the National Institutes of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control recognized obesity as a complex chronic disease in the guidelines first issued in 1998. Experts have long acknowledged that obesity is a multifaceted condition with numerous causes, many of which are beyond an individual's control. Worse, the disease is a driver of much suffering, poor health and early mortality. And those affected are too often subject to enormous societal stigma and discrimination.
An unclear definition of obesity has certainly led to some confusion across the board. Those affected do not simply look different from others; there is much more happening beneath the appearance of a larger body type. Obesity is a result of the body's failure to regulate weight and adiposity (fat), which leads to a disruption of the body's processing of food to make energy (or a metabolic disorder). It's this metabolic disorder and the resulting chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many others, that mark obesity.
Calling obesity what it is, "a disease," can help direct more resources to needed research, prevention and treatment. It can help to encourage healthcare professionals to recognize obesity treatment as a needed and respected vocation, and, overall, it can help to reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by the millions affected.
This conversation has been a long time coming and it's a vital step toward combatting the epidemic. As we work to define obesity as a chronic, multifaceted disease faced by millions in the U.S., we can identify more effective ways to prevent and treat obesity - the greatest challenge to American health this century.
The Obesity Society is taking steps to support the recognition and treatment of obesity as a disease by providing resources and information to clinicians and policymakers through our recently launched Treat Obesity Seriously campaign. We hope others will join us in our effort.