Date Published: 25 June 2013

Is obesity a disease ?

Health News from the United States of America (USA)

Health News from the United States of America (USA)

Does it really make sense to classify obesity as a disease ?

The answer, according to the American Medical Association (AMA)'s new policy adopted at it's meeting on 18th June 2013, is YES. Some people find this decision surprising and in some cases even objectionable.

According to the Press Release issued by the AMA on 18 Jun 2013:

"Obesity as a Disease
Today, the AMA adopted policy that recognizes obesity as a disease requiring a range of medical interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention.

"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," said AMA board member Patrice Harris, M.D. "The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity." ..... " AMA Press Release.

The policy of classifying obesity as a disease has attracted much interest and comment from around the world. For example, the BBC's Kate Dailey wrote the magazine article "Obesity is a disease in the US. Should it be?" that appeared on the BBC news website today, 25 Jun 2013, was featured on the BBC News ( homepage and widely shared via social media such as Twitter.

This is one of many new policies adopted by the AMA on the 2nd day of its annual meeting. Other new policies announced at the same time concern:

  • Opposition to Genetic Discrimination
  • Support of Public Access to Genetic Data
  • Pharmacy Compounding Safety
  • Opposition to the Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations for Gay Men
  • HIV Treatment as Prevention
  • Banning Marketing of Energy Drinks to Kids
  • Health Risks of Sitting
  • Permitting Sunscreen in Schools
  • Exam Room Computing & Patient-Physician Interactions

To understand the discussion it is necessary to know what is obesity?

There are two definitions of obesity. They are:

  1. Obesity is defined as a person having a weight at least 20% above the recommended weight (for his or her height and gender).


  2. Obesity is defined in terms of body mass index (BMI):
    While a BMI in the range 25-30 is considered overweight,
    a BMI of over 30 is considered obese.
    A BMI of over 40 is considered morbidly obese.

Other important aspects of any discussion about obesity include known causes of obesity, the health risks associated with obesity and treatments for obesity.

According to today's article on the BBC website, a committee of experts at the AMA meeting recommended against classifying obesity as a disease, yet despite this the association's delegates voted to approve the change - thereby defining approx one third of the population of the USA as 'diseased'.

This new AMA policy is controversial. After news of the AMA's new policy had spread on social media, the hashtag #IAmNotADisease became popular on Twitter. The stream of tweets using this tag is expressive, to say the least.

  • Amanda Levitt of @FatBodyPolitics tweeted "Fat stigma racialized, gendered & classed emphasis on fatness takes away from ending poverty & creating access to medicine. #iamnotadisease" on 19 Jun, receiving 18 RTs and 8 favourites
  • ArteToLife of @BigLiberty tweeted "Hey @AmerMedicalAssn, you know what is an epidemic? The exploding numbers of kids with eating disorders #IAmNotADisease" on 18 Jun, receiving 14 RTs and 6 favourites
  • pullapartgirl of @pullapartgirl tweeted "I need compassionate healthcare, laws against weight discrimination, fat acceptance. I don't need a cure for my existence. #IAmNotADisease" on 18 Jun, receiving 28 RTs and 4 favourites

... among many other comments.

Source: American Medical Association (AMA) in more general press release ref. listing new policies adopted on 2nd day of Annual Meeting.

Also in the News:

By 2043 obesity might exceed smoking as the largest preventable cause of cancer in women - 25 Sep '18

Positive effects of exercise on blood cell populations - 20 Jun '18

Brits walk less than one mile per day - 25 May '17

European Obesity Day 2017 - 20 May '17

Obesity and alcohol use in Australia - 5 Apr '16

AMA endorses 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines (USA) - 8 Jan '16

Vet charity warning about pet obesity - 25 Mar '15

Young smokers father fatter sons - 2 Apr '14

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