Is obesity a disease?

People walking in Chicago.
(Jeff Haynes / Getty Images)

Is smoking a disease? Few of us would think so. It’s a terribly unhealthful habit that can cause various fatal and chronic diseases, but it is not an illness unto itself. There are smokers who remain disease-free.

So it’s hard for me to jump on board with the American Medical Assn.’s decision Tuesday to recognize obesity as a disease. That recognition has no official meaning; it is relevant only to the AMA. But as problematic as obesity is for our society, and as closely linked as it is to serious illnesses, there are obese people who have no apparent health problems. Fighting obesity is one thing, but calling it a disease in the absence of any real disease is another.

The AMA resolution points out that obesity itself can be caused by many physical conditions, such as metabolic problems. But in that case, the underlying physical condition, not the symptom, would appear to be the disease. The illnesses that result from obesity would also be properly classified as disease. But this playing with words so that potentially unhealthful behaviors or situations are defined as diseases sounds more like an attempt to suit an agenda than a responsible medical resolution.


Next up: Stress as a disease? How about a TV habit?


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