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Is Obesity a Disease?

Obesity has always been poorly understood within healthcare. It was generally thought that the solution to Obesity was to eat less and burn more calories, and that the inability to achieve desired results was related to laziness and undisciplined behavior. The blame was placed back onto the patient. The message was “if you’re fat, it’s your fault.” This statement is 100% false, however it is still commonly the message we hear today.

Recently, in 2013, the American Medical Association issued a statement that classifies Obesity as an actual disease….. Not because of laziness and undisciplined behavior.

The Obesity Medicine Association defines Obesity as: “a chronic, relapsing, multi-factorial, neurobehavioral disease, wherein an increase in body fat promotes adipose tissue dysfunction and abnormal fat mass physical forces, resulting in adverse metabolic, biomechanical, and psychosocial health consequences.”

What is the definition of a disease? The American Medical Association proposes that a disease must have the 3 following characteristics:

  1. An impairment of the functioning of some aspect of the body
  2. Demonstrates characteristic signs and symptoms
  3. Causes harm and morbidity
Does Obesity Fit the Definition of a Disease?

1. Impairment of the function of some aspect of the body:

The intake of food is regulated by specific signals sent and received by the brain, as well as signals from the body, including the gut, the pancreas, and the fat tissue. This balance helps to regulate the feelings of hunger, and allows for body weight regulation.

Studies show that the Hedonic Pathway, or Reward System”, can override the brain’s regulatory system for food intake and energy balance. Certain foods in our environment are acting in some ways like a hormone that serves to reset the body’s target weight.

There is also impairments with insulin sensitivity and hyperinsulinemia. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the amount of sugar in your bloodstream. Insulin moves sugar out of the blood stream into fat, muscle, and liver cells to be stored or used as energy. High insulin levels promote excess storage of fat and worsening weight gain.

2. Characteristic Signs and Symptoms:

Obesity is characterized by excessive adipose (fat) tissue and can manifest as increased BMI, increased waist circumference, and/or increased body fat percentage.

3. Harm and Morbidity:

Obesity can be associated with medical conditions, which many tend to improve with weight loss. 

  • Increased inflammation
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Infertility
  • Renal failure
  • Cancer
  • Depression


“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that Lung Cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes.” American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists


Want a program to address the underlying issues to obesity? Call us today and make an appointment to take control of your health! Medical Weight Loss Specialists of Bismarck (701) 354-0964.