Obesity as a “disease”…a mixed blessing?

In yesterday’s post, I talked about some of the expert disagreement about the role that being overweight or obese play in health. Conveniently, the American Medical Association has now decided to recognize obesity as a disease. Is this a good thing? Let’s discuss.

The cons:

  • Some people who have a body mass index (BMI) that technically places them in the “obese” range are perfectly healthy, yet could be labeled as having a disease.
  • A growing body of research has identified the dangers of being “metabolically obese” (aka “skinny fat”), which generally means having a BMI in the “normal” range, but having an excess amount of fat packed in around the vital organs. These people would likely continue to fall through the cracks of the medical system.

The pros:

  • People who are obese and do want help to lose weight may find that they have better medical coverage for skilled nutrition counseling from registered dietitians.
  • Identifying obesity as a disease, instead of a lack of willpower, may lessen some of the blaming and shaming that has increasingly been directed at people who weigh “too much.” 

As the New York Times article “A.M.A. Recognizes Obesity as a Disease” points out:

One reason in favor [of calling obesity a disease] was that it would reduce the stigma of obesity that stems from the widespread perception that it is simply the result of eating too much or exercising too little. Some doctors say that people do not have full control over their weight.

Specifically, the resolution adopted by the AMA said:

“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes.”

The AMA has no legal authority, but it will still be interesting to see how this plays out.