Is it about time we recognise obesity as a disease?

Washington : With obesity affecting such a massive chunk of the world’s population, is there a need to now recognise it as a disease?
Obesity is a disorder in which excess body fat is accumulated to such an extent that it starts affecting one’s health adversely. This, according to the researchers, meets the dictionary definition of disease.

The team of researchers also pointed out that more than 200 genes influence weight, and most of these are expressed in the brain or in adipose tissue.

“Thus body weight, fat distribution, and risk of complications are strongly influenced by biology — it is not an individual’s fault if they develop obesity,” researchers suggest.

They argue that the recent rapid increase in obesity is not due to genetics but to an altered environment (food availability and cost, physical environment, and social factors).

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Yet the widespread view is that obesity is self-inflicted and that it is entirely the individual’s responsibility to do something about it, while healthcare professionals seem ill-informed on the complexity of obesity and what patients with obesity want.

According to the researchers, recognising obesity as a chronic disease with severe complications rather than a lifestyle choice “should help reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by many people with obesity.”
The findings were published in the Journal of BMJ.

They disagree that labelling a high proportion of the population as having a disease removes personal responsibility or may overwhelm health services, pointing out that other common diseases, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, require people to take action to manage their condition.

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Researchers believe that the dictionary definition of disease “is so vague that we can classify almost anything like a disease” and says the question is not whether we can, but whether we should, and to what end.

If labelling obesity as a disease was harmless then it wouldn’t really matter. But labelling obesity as a disease “risks reducing autonomy, disempowering and robbing people of the intrinsic motivation that is such an important enabler of change,” researchers suggest.

What’s more, making obesity a disease may not benefit patients, but it will benefit healthcare providers and the pharmaceutical industry when health insurance and clinical guidelines promote treatment with drugs and surgery.

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