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June 21, 2013 | 2 minute read

Is Obesity a Disease?

http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-nutritionist-holding-green-apple-weight-scale-image28463742The American Medical Association (AMA) thinks so.

Earlier this week, at their annual meeting, they announced they were officially recognizing obesity as a disease. It’s a move that will have far-reaching effects on the American healthcare system, in that it will raise awareness and spur action on the part of physicians, who are historically reluctant to discuss weight with their patients. It may also encourage more insurers to cover obesity treatment and, hopefully, prevention efforts.

Much of the attention surrounding this new classification has focused on semantic issues (what is a disease, anyway, and how does it differ from a condition or disorder?) and on the fact that the most widely-used measure of obesity, the Body Mass Index or BMI, is an imperfect one.

While that particular debate continues, AICR maintains our strong, evidence-based recommendation to maintain a healthy body weight because carrying excess body fat is a major cancer risk. Specifically, body fatness increases risk for seven different kinds of cancer:

  • esophageal cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • postmenopausal breast cancer
  • gallbladder cancer

In fact, AICR estimates that excess body fat alone is responsible for over 100,000 cancers in the U.S. each year. Next to not smoking, staying at a healthy body weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer.

Which is why we at AICR hope that these new efforts by the AMA, the US Congress and other entities remain focused across the spectrum of weight gain. AICR offers help to individuals and health professionals on losing weight and keeping it off. But treatment is only one aspect of any disease.

Preventing obesity is vital. Because preventing obesity means preventing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other health complications. It’s as close to a magic bullet as we’ll get.

What do you think? Is obesity a disease? Does classifying it as one change how your think about it?

6 comments on “Is Obesity a Disease?

  1. Jane on

    Still…the only accepted form of discrimination is that against overweight/obese people.
    How about heredity, social economics, learned behavior. Following an identical menu and performing the activities of a thin person would not insure the same results as that thin person. Not everyone is designed the same way, inside or out.

  2. A on

    Anyone who says obesity is a choice is ignorant and should research the facts before lumping a group of people into one bucket.

  3. John Bobbin on

    As a graduate of the Master of Clinical Science – Lifestyle Medicine I have looked at all of the relevant research for obesity ( it is caused by lifestyle) for this course, and all of the research points in the same direction – eating more calories/kilojoules than you burn up causes weight gain. I think by calling it a disease the focus will move more towards treatment than prevention. You can not manufacture calories out of thin air so you have to choose to eat them. Calorie deprivation works in every case from extremes such as war camps – lapband surgery to personal choice, resulting in weight loss.

  4. Fred on

    Calling obesity a disease is like saying fever is a disease, which is not true but given the magnitude of the epidemic, I appreciate the symbolic step taken by AMA to raise awareness about obesity and possibly motivate physicians and insurance companies to take obesity prevention seriously.
    I think this should be followed by a concerted political action that will stand up to big business that promotes the kind of diet that leads to high calorie intake (when we know most Americans don’t meet physical activity recommendations to burn off the excess energy)

  5. Ricardo on

    Yes of course it goes without saying that obesity is a disease. In fact the AMA(American Medical Association) has just officially declared that obesity is a disease. But people think that obesity is some kind of natural thing that happens and thus they tend to neglect this issue. And then all the problems associated with obesity arise.
    Great post. Thanks for sharing.


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