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Danielle Hamilton
ENGL 2010
13 July 2014
Should Obesity be Classified as a Disease?
Obesity is considered to be a major nutritional disorder in the United States, but is it a
disease? Physicians for both sides have compelling ideas and evidence to support their claims.
Those who think that obesity is a disease say that obesity meets all of the qualifications
to be considered a disease. Like other diseases or disorders, obesity can be passed down
genetically. Labeling obesity as a disease can be helpful in preventing other high risk illnesses.
However, those on the other side of the spectrum think that obesity is a side effect or
symptom of another illnesses or that obesity only creates risks for other illnesses, and is not an
illness within itself. It is believed by those who disagree that obesity is a disease that obesity is
completely preventable, and is influenced by the environment and modern lifestyles. They
believe that although obesity can be closely related to a disease, it does not satisfy the
requirements or other characteristics needed to qualify as a disease.
Why Some Say Obesity is a Disease
A disease is defined by three components. First, there
has to be an impairment of the normal functioning of some
aspect of the body. Second, the condition has consistent
characteristic signs and symptoms. Lastly, the condition
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causes harm or morbidity. Some doctors claim that obesity meets all of these conditions. Scott
Kahan, Director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness, stated obesity "satisfies all the
definitions and criteria of what a disease and medical condition is... The one difference is that
people who have obesity have to wear their disease on the outside" (Rachel Rettner, par. 12).
Obesity, like other diseases, impairs the normal functioning of the body. Obesity can
impair normal mobility and range of motion in knees and hips. Obese patients make up 33% of
all joint replacement operations (Harvard School of Public Health, par. 21). Obesity is also linked
to reproductive impairment, and risk of miscarriage in women. Also, once people gain weight,
the extra pounds can lead to metabolic and hormonal problems that increase the risk of
diseases. Just as diabetes results from a malfunction of the bodys ability to regulate blood
sugar, obesity results from a malfunction of the ability to regulate energy balance.
Obesity like other diseases, has certain characteristics. The most notable characteristic
would be excess body fat accumulation. Being obese can lead to increased risks of acquiring
other harmful illnesses. Obesity also decreases a persons life expectancy and can cause death,
like other diseases. Obesity in adults can lead to three years loss of life. Extreme obesity can
shorten an individuals life by 10 years. It is estimated that 300,000 deaths per year may be
attributed to obesity (Prospective Studies Collaboration, par. 17).
Genetics can play a role in the development of
obesity. An individuals genetic makeup regulates how
our bodies store, release, and balance energy from
our food and calorie intake. This means that obesity
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can be inherited just like any other trait or disorder. Genetic disposition could play a large role
in determining if a person will be obese or not. It is believed that genes that deal with fat
accumulation are influenced by the type of environment that the individual lives in.
Some physicians believe that referring to obesity as a disease may remove some of the
negative feelings or stigma associated with obesity. Individuals with obesity would feel that
they are less at fault. That it is not attributed to their lack of will power. If obesity were to be
treated as a disease, it could help prevent other high risk illnesses. Doing so might even make
obesity recognized as a condition that should be taken more seriously than it has been in the
Why Labeling Obesity as a Disease Would be a Misconception
Physicians that think obesity should not be considered a disease claim that obesity is
only a side effect or symptom of another illness. Obesity can be caused by many conditions like
hypothyroidism, arthritis, increased insulin levels, depression, and many others. Certain drugs
can also cause obesity such as antidepressants, antihistamines, steroids, and beta blockers
(Mayo Clinic, par. 7). Obesity creates high risk for other illnesses, but risk factors do not make a
condition an illness or disease. Some people can even be healthy and live a normal life while
being obese.
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Obesity unlike most diseases can be completely preventable, and
by preventing obesity we can prevent many other conditions. Just like
smoking is a preventable risk factor for lung cancer and drinking for
alcoholism, obesity is a preventable risk factor for heart disease, stroke,
high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, respiratory problems, infertility, and mental health
conditions. Obesity can be prevented by eating a balanced diet, with the right calorie intake in
accordance to your physical activity. Genetics only contributes to 10% of your weight; the other
90% is a combination of diet and exercise. Given this information, it makes it hard to blame
obesity on genetics alone.
Treating obesity as a disease could potentially do more harm than good to those who
are obese. Those individuals could suffer psychological consequences if they are labeled as
diseased. Even if people feel less at fault it still doesnt help the prevention or the treatment
of obesity. Because it is the diseases fault and not their own that they are obese, it creates
complacency. They feel that they have no control over the disease, so why bother to do
anything about it?
Obesity does not meet all of the qualifications to be considered a disease. According to
the first component of the definition of disease, there has to be an impairment of the normal
functioning of some aspect of the body. The body is doing what it is made to do. Turning extra
calories into fat is not a malfunction.
The first human beings had to adapt to
their environment, and that meant
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that they needed to store fat for the cold and to hold out long enough for their next meal.
Calling obesity a disease contradicts the functioning of our bodies. The third component for
disease is that the condition causes harm or morbidity, but as stated above, some individuals
with obesity can be healthy and live a normal life.
Conclusion: Why Obesity Shouldnt be Considered a Disease
Obesity does not meet the qualifications to be considered a disease. Nor do I think that
a condition that is 90% preventable, or blames the bodys natural physiology for doing what it
was made to do should be classified as a disease. Although obesity is not a disease, it is a
condition that people need to be more aware of. Even though the step towards classifying this
condition as a disease is a little misguided, it is a good sign of faith that society is ready to take
action against obesity.

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Works Cited
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Obesity: Halting the Epidemic by Making Health
Easier, At a Glance 2011." 26 May 2011. Web. 8 Jul. 2014.
Harvard School of Public Health. "Obesity Prevention Source: Health Risks."
10 Jan. 2014. Web. 8 Jul. 2014.
Jeffrey Friedman. "Obesity Is Genetic." 9 Sep. 2009. Web. 9 Jul. 2014.
Katz, D. L. Perspective: Obesity is not a disease. 16 April 2014. Web. 7 July 2014.
MayoClinic. "Obesity: Definition." 7 June 2013. Web. 7 Jul. 2014. "Obesity Pros and Cons" 3 June 2014. Web. 8 Jul. 2014.
Prospective Studies Collaboration. "Body-Mass Index and Cause-Specific Mortality in 900,000
Adults: Collaborative Analyses of 57 Prospective Studies." Lancet. 28 Mar. 2009.
Rachel Rettner. "Is Obesity a Disease? Doctors Debate." 27 June 2012. Web. 9
Jul. 2014.
Surgeon General. "Overweight and Obesity: Health Consequences." 19
Nov. 2013.Web. 9 Jul. 2014.