Is Obesity a Disease?

Obesity is a complex and mufti-layered issue with implications for public health, insurance policies, federal oversight, social stigmatization, and the economy. Jack Collins from Academic Earth shared this great video highlighting the cost of obesity and how it impacts our global economy.

Collins and his colleagues claim that, “65% of the world’s population live in a country where you’re more likely to die for being obese than you are for being underweight.”

The financial burden of obesity and the rate at which obesity and obesity-related diseases continue to climb in the US, brings this issue at a crucial crossroads. Now, more than ever, we need to take definitive action on a national level to help turn this around and reshape our futures to embrace optimal living.


The American Medical Association (AMA) announced last week that they will now officially classify obesity as a disease requiring medical attention and treatment.

This news from the AMA is the most recent step taken by the medical community to acknowledge the link between severe weight gain and significant health concerns while also raising important questions about how to turn this epidemic around in the years to come.

Many consider obesity to be a gateway to many other illnesses such as diabetes and coronary heart disease which can be diagnosed and treated with a wide variety of methods ranging from prescription medicines to embracing a holistic whole diet and lifestyle. The relationship to obesity is there, but without an immediate diagnosis of obesity in and of itself, many continue to face serious health risks without proper treatment until it’s too late.

Recognizing obesity as a disease opens up new doors that may have a positive impact on how to help address the epidemic from a medical standpoint. Health insurance benefits that were previously unavailable may offer enough incentive to encourage people to seek medical advice. For some, simply labeling it as a disease could be enough of a wake-up call to get them motivated to reverse their condition.

These perceived benefits, however, do not come without drawbacks. One major concern is the possibility that many will turn to prescription drugs to “cure” their obesity rather than adopting healthier habits that are far more sustainable with greater benefits. The multi-billion dollar diet industry already profits tremendously in the area of quick-fix solutions and they stand to gain even more in light of the AMA’s decision.

These concerns are valid and I share the belief that many find the option of exercise and sound nutrition to be overwhelming and leaves them discouraged, but this does not mean that labeling obesity as a disease will halt the efforts of many in the health industry who are working hard to promote wellness and optimal living. The attention garnered from this decision will at the very least, give the public some food for thought and potentially encourage them to be more proactive about their health. That tipping point is the foundation of any sort of tangible change.

What are your thoughts about obesity as an economic issue? Do you think labeling obesity as a disease will have a positive or negative effect on the epidemic? Please share your thoughts!

11 Replies to “Is Obesity a Disease?”

  1. That is a great picture. It is so true that our perception of people pre industry is MUCH smaller. Being large was a sign of wealth. Now we are all working so hard to get back to the muscular roots. I definitely think it is an epidemic. People have gotten lazy, the service industry cater to the laziness, and it keeps going. Perfect example of this… I live on the 11th floor of a high rise and I take the elevator because 9x out of 10 I am carrying a lot of stuff. Plus my knee won’t do stairs well right now. Well anyways it stopped on the SECOND floor this morning, some one hopped on and got off on the first. ARE YOU KIDDING ME. In my old apartment I lived on the 3rd floor and only took the elevator for laundry… It blows my mind.

    Well that was a rant : )


    1. Thanks Megan! I hear what you’re saying. So many people are conditioned to always take the more comfortable route and it’s made us way too complacent. I like your point about how our perception of body size or weight in association with wealth has drastically changed throughout history. Every time I visit an art museum and see portraits of women from the 17th and 18th centuries, I become fascinated with how much fuller they are in comparison to modern women. And some parts of the world still believe that heavier weight equals prosperity. Here we are on the complete opposite end of that spectrum and suffering from the side effects of having whatever we want at our fingertips. Ironic and horrible all at once. Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!


  2. I think looking at obesity as an economic issue is a good idea. We as a nation subsidize the production and consumption of crappy – high cal, low nutrient foods – so the first thing we should do is instead subsidize the production of healthy foods – less corn more kale. Then on a retail level the government should regulate junk food like they do alcohol and tobacco. For instance we could, instead of banning giant sodas, start to tax them and all unhealthy foods so they are cost prohibitive and health foods become the affordable option, we could also look at requiring things like the same variety of fruits be available in a stores that sell candy bars as types of candy bars. People also need education to understand nutrition and portion control. This is another area where the government could really step it up. It would be nice to see home economics back in schools and teaching nutrition and portion size as elements of cooking classes.

    Many people also lack easy access access to high quality healthy foods. If you go from neighborhood to neighborhood in NYC you will see that the amount of fresh fruit available in the corner store increases in direct ratio to the income level in surrounding the community. Upper East Side, lots of fresh fruit and veggie at the 24 hour corner store. Bed-Sty, bullet proof glass, candy bars and chips but not an apple to be found. Economics at work again!!

    From an economic perspective we can also look at the medicalization of a social problem as a truly western approach – you ate too much so now we will cut you open and fix you. People are already demanding medications and surgeries to correct what could easily be treated with diet and exercise. The AMA has just made official what has been in practice for a long time. Which raises the medical economic justice issue – in 65% of the world rich people eat too much and then get fancy medical procedures to correct the effects while in the other 35% of the world poor people don’t have access to food so they starve to death. Maybe we should start some kind of food justice exchange program where after you have a surgery to reduce the size of your stomach so you can no longer eat gluttonous amounts of food you begin to mail the food you are no longer able to eat to a person who is starving in another part of the world.

    Clearly I see everything as economics.


    1. This is brilliant! So brilliant in fact that I hope to feature this in some way on the site. And I agree with all of your points. I’ve been hearing the argument for bringing home economics back to schools for some time now and I think it would go a long way to building healthier habits from a younger age, which is more effective in curbing unhealthy eating habits later in life. Programs like FoodCorps are awesome attempts at bringing some of that nutrition education/field-to-plate philosophy back to the classroom and I think greater emphasis needs to be place on these sorts of projects. I think what I like best about what you’re saying is that this is an issue that requires a multi-pronged approach to find solutions that work. It’s education AND government subsidization AND sound urban planning AND economics. I recently made the decision to take a step back from an RD degree in favor of a health coach certification because I believe that the way we’ve gone about looking at food and nutrition for the past fifty years has not helped lower the numbers of obesity and obesity-related diseases. There are so many other elements at work when it comes to how people eat, their lifestyles, and their circumstances. Looking at it through the lens of science and medicine can be severely limiting and for many, it does more harm than good. Ah, Caitlin, thank you SOO much for your comments here. You just gave me a shot of energy with your thoughts. It’s hard to get people really interested in the subject, so I’m appreciative of what you’re saying. 🙂


  3. I think it’s about time that we pay more attention to the long term affects of obesity, but I also think they may have to change the standards a bit. at 5’3 and 170lbs, I was “obese” for many years. Yet, I was healthy and active. I finally decided to lose weight (because even though “obesity” always prints out automatically as a diagnosis when I go to the doc because of my BMI, my docs have never once encouraged me to lose weight!!) I decided I wanted to be smaller and lose weight. I have auto immune issues that certainly are bothered by extra weight. Losing just one pound dropped me out of obese and into overweight. (I’m now down about 17 lbs!) Anyway, my point is that it definitely needs to be a bigger conversation, more actions need to be taken to reduce the huge issue we have with obesity, but I also think that prevention needs to be a major, major focus.


    1. Congrats on the weight loss and on your dedication to your goal! I agree, this does not need to be a bigger conversation including viewpoints from all sides of the argument. I tend to walk a fine line between having some sort of federal guidelines for healthy eating and exercise and a more open approach that centers on a holistic style of health that takes into account emotional and mental well-being. I think that our relationship with food can be deeply personal and often the way we consume is correlated to many other things going on in our lives. Putting the emphasis on medicine and diseases takes tiny steps towards acknowledging the issue, but it raises a host of problems as well. You’re so so right about prevention being a major focus. I constantly beat the dream of education, especially nutrition education for our children so that they can learn those habits from an early age. I find comfort in knowing that we’re helping facilitate the dialogue right here and right now, through sharing and connecting. Thanks SO much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!! You’re welcome anytime. 🙂


  4. As a nurse married to a pharmacist it is painfully clear that this will open up the pharmaceutical industry to offer a wide range of drugs to line their pockets
    And doctors love it because now they can take out their prescription pad instead spending time talking about nutrition. Something they only get days discussing in med school. I know plenty of obese people. I’m married to one. They will be the first ones to tell you “I’m obese because I like to eat”. There’s no disease here unless their eating is tied to a psychological addiction issue or emotional issues in which case THAT needs to be treated.

    Labeling obesity… the result of poor lifestyle choices and mega food industry influence a “disease” is like labeling “sore throats” a disease among fire eaters.
    The level of absurdity continues to get more absurd.


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