Physician in white lab coat speaking to middle aged obese woman

Pro or Con: Is Obesity a Disease?

This post was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. This site was deactivated on July 1, 2013.


Members of the House of Delegates of the American Medical Association (AMA) passed a resolution at their annual meeting this week that could be as significant as anything being considered by the US House of Representatives. The AMA Delegates voted in favor of classifying obesity as a disease, moving it up from its former designations as either a behavioral problem, chronic condition, health concern or complex disorder.

This vote was in direct opposition to the recommendations of their own Council on Science and Public Health.

The Council studied the issue and concluded obesity should not be considered a disease because there’s no good way to measure it. Body Mass Index is the measurement now used, but is considered too simplistic, especially since it cannot distinguish between excess weight from fat versus muscle.

As it turns out, obesity isn’t the only thing the AMA has a hard time defining. There is no universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease, either.

This action by the world’s largest physician’s group is largely symbolic since the AMA has no legal authority over the insurance industry, which gets to decide which claims to pay. The resolution was, however, supported by other health groups including the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, American College of Cardiology, and American College of Surgeons.

After reviewing the widespread coverage of this decision, it was immediately evident that not everyone in the public health and policy arena agrees with the decision. To put it into perspective I’ve rounded up some of the Pros and Cons to help you decide whether this new designation will help or hurt our national problem with energy imbalance.

PROS: If obesity is a disease the benefits are it may

Reduce the stigma that it’s caused by poor personal habits

Result in expanded coverage by health insurance

Force physicians to raise the issue with their patients (more than half of obese patients have never been told by their doctor that they need to lose weight)

Encourage more obesity prevention programs in schools and the workplace

Support efforts to restrict the sale of certain foods and beverages to those receiving food assistance

Increase research to find a cure or more effective treatment for obesity

Qualify expensive treatments for IRS tax deductions

CONS: If obesity is a disease the disadvantages are it may

Increase stigma towards those who don’t seek treatment

Raise health insurance premiums paid by individuals and employers

Run up the cost of care for the 1/3 of Amercians who are obese and seek treatment

Increase the sales of ineffective and untested products

Support taxes and restrictions on certain foods and beverages

Undermine personal responsibility to change one’s eating habits and activity level

Shift attention towards expensive drugs and surgery and away from programs aimed at preventing obesity

If you’d like to read more about this evergreen issue, here are some past posts worth revisiting:

  • Prejudice Against the Overweight and Obese
  • Obesity and What We Buy at the Supermarket
  • 3 Anti-Obesity Drugs Now Available in U.S.
  • Reflections on Obesity and Weight of the Nation
  • Metabolic Syndrome is Worse than Obesity
  • Research on Mindless Eating Offers New Insight into Obesity
  • Update on Dieting and Weight Loss News
Posted in Calories, Chronic Diseases, Eating Habits, HEALTH GOES STRONG, Healthy Lifestyle, Moderation, Obesity, Therapeutic Diets, Weight Control and tagged , , , , .

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