Obesity a Disease or a Condition?

Doctors, patients, fitness experts, nutritionists, and every day citizens all wonder the same thing: is obesity a disease, or is it a condition? With the world of medicine continuing to make strides forward in research and analysis, there are still more questions than answers in how best to classify obesity.

New studies have pointed in a number of different directions regarding this issue, but none of them give a necessarily concrete answer as to what obesity truly is.

On one side of the coin, the American Medical Association (AMA) recently came to the conclusion that obesity is a disease. This essentially means that obesity requires treatment and prevention, and the AMA’s decision could affect how insurance providers and doctors handle obesity related issues.

Many argue that this is the best step for AMA to make as designating obesity as a disease leads to better over all health care. After all, the negative health effects of being overweight are well documented and can be devastating to some individuals’ outlooks on life.

Furthermore, recent studies have noted that being overweight might have more to do with a person’s economic situation than anything else. While obesity rates among teenagers are in decline overall, the same cannot be said for low-income families. In fact, children who come from families with lower socioeconomic conditions have seen increases in obesity rates. This may be attributed to a lack of ability to be as physically engaged in activities such as group sports or eat as well as their more affluent counterparts.

Finally, some have suggested that genetics have a major impact on an individual’s likelihood to become overweight. This may be supported by recent findings that suggest that children who have an above average BMI at very young ages are far more likely to retain their weight through adolescence and adulthood.

So is it a closed case in so far as to say that obesity is a disease? Not so fast, suggest some. There is ample evidence that points to the idea that body weight is entirely a personal condition and, like it or not, a choice.

Although the AMA is classifying it as a disease, not all doctors agree with the assessment. Some have compared it to other self-inflicted medical conditions, suggesting that being obese may be a difficult decision for some, but it is still a decision.

With obesity rates decreasing among teens in upper income families, there is increasing ground for the notion that tactics against junk food and sedentary lifestyles are successful. After all, if individuals eat right and pursue active life styles, there is no evidence that suggests that they will become obese. On top of that, those who have fought for fitness from an overweight starting point will often argue that it is not medicine and surgery that correct obesity long-term, but rather changes in lifestyle choices.

In fact, as treatment options are limited and doctors are finite, labeling obesity as a disease might lead to higher costs for treatment. This might mean that those who legitimately need treatment will have a more difficult time receiving it.

Regardless of what the conclusion turns out to be, there is currently anything but a consensus over how to define the contentious issue. Perhaps it is most fair to define obesity as both a disease and condition rather than either/or. In this way, it could be treated properly and taken seriously as an issue that much to do with genetics as well as a condition that requires substantial habitual efforts to change. However it is defined, one thing is clear: obesity is an issue with a number of different solutions and perspectives.

By Brett Byers-Lane


NY Times
Desert News

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