While fault cannot be pinned entirely on the individual, removing fault entirely is not the answer either.

obesity disease, obese barbieMillions of Americans found out they had a disease last year. This disease came about thanks to the decision by the American Medical Association (AMA) classifying obesity as a “multi-metabolic and hormonal disease state.” What we are left with is the obesity disease.

The implications of labeling obesity a disease are many. For starters, it allows doctors to treat it as they would other diseases. They can chart progress, provide medication or surgical options, and possibility bill insurance companies for payment. Many doctors already treat secondary health complications due to obesity. Most of the focus, however, is outcome-based and in turn ignores the person.

The stigma of obesity has long been a problem in America. Americans are bombarded on a daily basis with images of thin models through television and magazine ads. Yet, while the female models in the ads are usually a size two or smaller, the average American woman is a size 14. This results in many women spending their lives on some type of diet in an attempt to become the “ideal size.”

Labeling Obesity a “Disease” is a Mistake.

Obesity diseaseThirty years ago America did not have an obesity problem. Now, two-thirds of America is either obese or overweight. By its very nature the label of disease takes away all personal responsibility. The reason we have an obesity epidemic is because of personal choices, not some pathological process over which we have no control.

For example, smoking is not considered a disease but rather a personal choice. Smoking causes a variety of secondary problems including lung cancer and emphysema. Obesity, like smoking, results from choices. We choose the type and amounts of food we eat. It is not something out of our control.

By suggesting that obesity is a fixed disease state, you are changing the way a person responds to the condition of obesity. Why would that person attempt to manage their weight if they believe it is out of their control? In fact, a recent study found that “the obesity as a disease message increased body satisfaction among obese individuals, probably because it removed the shame of obesity as a moral failing.” It also resulted in “less healthy, higher-calorie food choices.”

There is no simple solution to the obesity epidemic. Americans have an embarrassing amount of food available to them. Drive-thru restaurants, like McDonalds, offer a variety of high-fat/high-calorie selections without even getting out of a car. People spend more time sitting than ever before. For the first time we are seeing diseases like hypertension and type two diabetes in children. While obesity cannot be entirely pinned on the individual, removing fault entirely is not the answer either.


  1. Many people find help in Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous. Some of us have been diagnosed as morbidly obese while others are undereaters. Among us are those who were severely bulimic, who have harmed themselves with compulsive exercise, or whose quality of life was impaired by constant obsession with food or weight. We tend to be people who, in the long-term, have failed at every solution we tried, including therapy, support groups, diets, fasting, exercise, and in-patient treatment programs.

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  2. I am posting comments from Facebook that I think are important to this discussion. The following is from Evelyn Bolster Weatherholt:
    Wendy Cooper while I agree with the basic premise of this article, I wonder if you may have missed one of the outcomes of labeling obesity as a disease. Insurance. By making obesity a disease and therefore a lifelong condition that can be treated more effectively and managed with education, specialists (dieticians, therapists, etc…) and medical procedures that will now be covered by insurance. This may seem like a huge crutch but people with this condition usually need a great deal of support to manage their weight. I would like to know where you gathered your data about the food choices due to the change of calling obesity a disease? I can not fathom a comprehensive study having been done so quickly, please site it. Thank you for the article Wendy, please continue to bring topics like this to our attention.

  3. Having obesity declared a “disease” is also a way to “stack” diagnoses for higher insurance reimbursement. The patient is obese, therefore, they should be tested for a variety of secondary diseases. I also believe that what I personally have witnessed is that the people I know that lost weight, either on their own, or by gastric bypass or other weight loss surgeries, did cure themselves of diabetes II and hypertension. Very complicated issue for the medical industry and requires discipline of the patient. My personal thought is that if obesity is diagnosed a disease, just like cirrhosis of the liver is, it does put the patient in a position of doing something about their weight in order to prevent further very expensive diseases. I did look at the “obesity index” and am average, but by weight I am borderline obese! Obesity is being 30 pounds over the FDA recommended weight for someone’s height. That’s a problem as well. Per WebMD, the Bariatric Metabolic Index (BMI) is what is also being used and is what my doctor uses…and I am still considered obese! If I lose the 20 pounds I’m supposed to, I’ll be anorexic!! Sheesh! Great article and issue that needs aggressive prevention.

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