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Is Obesity a Disease?

Is obesity a chronic disease
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon



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Maintaining overall health is a comprehensive process, and weight management is one important aspect. However, is there a direct link between excessive weight and health issues? And should being significantly overweight or obese be considered a disease? It may be difficult to give exact answers to these questions right away, so in this article, let’s explore several factors that may help get closer to the truth.

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Understanding the Complicated Nature of Obesity

In general, obesity is a build-up of excess body fat. However, it is a multidimensional health issue because it may have behavioral, environmental, and hereditary causes or a few of them. 

A person’s susceptibility to obesity may be influenced by genetic predisposition, which can affect metabolism and fat distribution. Environmental factors include a sedentary lifestyle, destructive dietary patterns, and limited access to healthful foods. The widespread use of processed and high-calorie foods also aggravates [1*] the risk of weight gain.

Insufficient stress management, low physical activity levels, and poor eating habits may also be called behavioral factors influencing the development of obesity. For example, emotional eating and binge eating caused by psychological challenges may exacerbate weight issues.

Whether there should be recognition of obesity as a disease is a question that may have different opinions. On the one hand, some people may not experience health problems because of being overweight, and it’s merely a matter of their personal choice and lifestyle. Nevertheless, excessive weight brings concerns about the associated health risks, covering not only physical dimensions but also mental and social aspects of individual well-being.

How Is Obesity Measured?

The methods for identifying obesity are the first hurdle in an attempt to decide whether obesity is a disease or not. The two main techniques are calculating a body mass index (BMI) and measuring waist circumference, both of which have pros and cons. Let’s review them in more detail to understand why they may not provide clear results for everyone.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is a widely used metric to measure obesity. It is calculated by taking the square of an individual’s height in meters and multiplying it by their weight in kilograms: weight (kg) / (height (m))^2. Based on BMI, the World Health Organisation (WHO [2*] ) offers the following categories:

  • Underweight: defined as a BMI below 18.5
  • Normal weight range: a BMI of 18.5–24.9
  • Overweight: a BMI between 25 and 29.9

There are also three classes of obesity based on BMI:

  • Class 1, moderate: BMI 30 to 34.9
  • Class 3, severe: BMI 35 to 39.9
  • Class 3, very severe or morbid: BMI 40 or higher

The main advantages of this method include its simplicity and wide use. It requires only two parameters, and everyone can assess their weight and the risk for potential weight-related health issues. However, it also has some limitations. For example, BMI uses general weight without distinguishing it between fat and muscle mass. In addition, its chart was developed based on the population average, so it doesn’t take into account differences that depend on gender and ethnicity.

Waist Circumference

This approach targets the evaluation of belly fat, which is linked to heightened health hazards [3*] . Through a flexible tape measure, measure the circumference of your waist around the thinnest point, typically the navel. A larger waist circumference raises the risk of health problems, particularly when it surpasses specific limits. 

However, while waist circumference often shows the potential for weight-related health risks better than BMI, it’s better to use these methods together. In this case, you get a more comprehensive picture of your health.

Want to know more and go through an assessment? Connect with a medical professional online.

Reasons for Not Considering Obesity as a Diseas

Multiple factors should be taken into account while determining whether obesity is a disease or not. Some argue against calling obesity an illness for the following reasons:

  1. Lifestyle Factors: Dietary and physical activity choices, among other lifestyle factors, are major contributors to obesity. Some contend that classifying it as a disease could ignore the part that individual choices play a role in causing weight gain.
  2. Complex Causes: Obesity has multiple contributing factors, such as genetics, environment, and metabolism. Its complexity may be oversimplified by classifying it as a single disease, which would prevent efficient interventions tailored to individual needs.
  3. Medicalization Issues: Some argue against the medicalization of lifestyle-related problems since it can result in excessive dependence on medications like Ozempic rather than comprehensive lifestyle modifications based on the person’s specific root causes of obesity.
  4. Stigmatization: Stigmatizing obesity as a disease may have negative psychological and social effects on people. This could make it more difficult to handle weight-related problems in an inclusive way. Moreover, it could lead to mental stress for those having excessive weight when they think obesity is a chronic disease.
  5. Changing Definitions: There is ongoing discussion on acceptable measures and thresholds, and the definition of obesity has undergone changes. Some argue that making the diagnosis of it as a disease can be premature or based on arbitrary standards.

Reasons to Consider Obesity as a Disease

A combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioral variables can make obesity a multifactorial disease. An extended description of the components that identify obesity as a disease are the following:

  1. Genetic predispositions: While environmental factors like sedentary lifestyles and easy access to high-calorie foods contribute to the development of obesity, genetic vulnerability can increase an individual’s susceptibility to weight gain.
  2. Link With Physiological Conditions: Obesity is defined as an excessive build-up of adipose tissue, which causes an unnatural rise in body weight. Numerous health concerns are linked to this condition, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, etc. Obesity is classified as a disease because of the complex relationship between it and these medical issues.
  3. Comprehensive Treatment Strategy: By classifying obesity as a disease, people are less likely to see it as a lifestyle choice and more likely to see it as a medical condition requiring comprehensive management. This recognition is essential to promoting a more compassionate and successful treatment strategy that includes behavioral, lifestyle, and medicinal interventions.

The Pros and Cons of Defining Obesity as a Disease

The advantages of classifying obesity as a disease may include the following:

  • Proper Medical Attention: An official diagnosis may help individuals seek medical assistance, leading to early intervention and better management. The American Medical Association strongly emphasizes the necessity of medical interventions, lifestyle modifications, and public health campaigns focused on addressing weight-related issues.
  • Research and Funding: Increased research funding can promote a better understanding of obesity and the development of more effective treatments.
  • Reduced Stigma: Treating obesity as a disease may help reduce social stigma, fostering empathy and understanding for individuals struggling with weight issues.
  • Insurance coverage: Once obesity is classified as a disease, it will fall under insurance coverage. For many people who are unable to pay for medical procedures that can aid in weight loss, that can be an essential starting point.

However, there are some potential drawbacks, such as:

  • Personal Responsibility: Some argue that labeling obesity as a disease may diminish personal responsibility, as it could be perceived as a medical condition beyond an individual’s control.
  • Overmedicalization: There’s concern that categorizing obesity as a disease might lead to overmedicalization, focusing primarily on pharmaceutical solutions rather than lifestyle changes.
  • Decreased quality of care: If healthcare providers focus solely on medical interventions without addressing the broader aspects of lifestyle, nutrition, and mental health, it may lead to less personalized care.

Does it Matter if We Call it a Disease or Not?

Considering the above-mentioned pros and cons, any approach may help prevent the obesity epidemic if individual awareness and attention to well-being take place. The most necessary solutions include proper medical attention, regular check-ups for identifying health issues, and holistic lifestyle changes that will contribute to not only weight loss but overall well-being.

Relationship Between Obesity and Diseases

Obesity is regarded as a major risk factor for several health problems. Several important insights into the connection between obesity and health outcomes are listed below.

Cardiovascular Diseases

  • Heart Disease: Cardiovascular disease, which includes illnesses such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, and myocardial infarction (heart attack), is more common among obese people.
  • Hypertension: High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and is closely associated with obesity.

Metabolic Disorders

  • Type 2 Diabetes: One of the main causes of both type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance is obesity. Overweight can affect how insulin works, especially in the abdominal area.
  • Dyslipidemia: Excessive triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels in the blood are linked to obesity.

Respiratory Conditions

  • Sleep Apnea: Obesity is a significant risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder that causes breathing to stop during sleep.
  • Asthma: Being overweight raises the likelihood and intensity of developing asthma, as well as making treatment more difficult.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

  • Osteoarthritis: Carrying excessive weight strains joints, especially the knees and hips, which aids in the onset and advancement of the arthritis.
  • Back Pain: Spinal problems and chronic back pain are more common in obese people.


  • Certain Cancers: Studies [4*] have connected obesity to a higher chance of developing breast, colorectal, endometrial, and kidney cancers.

Liver Diseases

  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): The disorder known as NAFLD, which is defined by the buildup of fat in the liver, is primarily associated with obesity.
  • Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): When NAFLD worsens, it can sometimes lead to NASH, which is characterized by inflammation and liver tissue damage.

Reproductive Health Issues

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is a hormonal disorder that affects women’s reproductive health. It is linked to obesity and a higher prevalence of the condition.
  • Infertility: Obesity may play a role in both male and female infertility.

Psychological and Neurological Conditions

  • Depression and Anxiety: Obesity and mental health are correlated, meaning that obesity raises the chance of developing depression and anxiety, both of which may increase weight gain.
  • Cognitive Decline: Research has connected obesity to a higher risk of neurological illnesses like Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline.

Tips for Talking to Your Provider About Weight Issues

If you want to learn more about your health and whether you may need to embark on a weight management program, it’s strongly recommended to consult with a healthcare provider. They will conduct a comprehensive assessment and provide you with a plan tailored to your needs. Here are a few tips to talk to your provider to begin a successful weight loss journey:

  • Be Open and Honest: Honesty is key when discussing your weight loss goals and challenges with your clinician, dietitian, or another medical professional. Open communication will help them better understand your needs and adjust their recommendations accordingly.
  • Share Your Concerns, Goals, and Challenges: Articulate your specific weight loss goals and the reasons behind them. This will help develop a customized plan that aligns with your aspirations.
  • Provide Your Medical History: Be sure to provide your healthcare provider with a comprehensive medical history, including any pre-existing conditions, medications you are taking, previous weight loss attempts, and relevant family history. This information will help assess potential risk factors and develop a personalized weight loss plan.
  • Ask for Guidance on a Healthy Lifestyle: Ask if any changes to your diet or exercise routine are necessary. Adopting a balanced and sustainable lifestyle can promote overall health and well-being, but it’s better to get individual recommendations to make sure your weight loss plan is safe.
  • Track Progress: Throughout your weight loss journey, keep track of your progress and share updates with your healthcare provider. Monitoring changes in weight, body measurements, dietary habits, and physical activity levels will help track the dynamics and optimize your plan as needed.
Consult a qualified medical professional from the comfort of your home and receive personalized recommendations.

In Conclusion

Classifying obesity as an illness raises questions about oversimplification and a potential increase in stigmatization. However, it may also result in more recognition, acceptance, deeper research, and better access to treatments.

Whether obesity is categorized as a disease or not, it is important to remember that it has a complex nature. Addressing weight-related issues requires open communication, spreading awareness, and holistic interventions, including individual and societal solutions.

Frequently Asked Questions

Although fat people may appear healthy in specific ways, being overweight frequently raises the chance of developing several diseases. Having regular check-ups and prioritizing general well-being via a balanced lifestyle is fundamental.
There is no single cause of obesity. A combination of factors, including genetics, specific diet, lack of physical activity, and environmental influences, can cause obesity.
Untreated obesity can result in a variety of health concerns, including diabetes, heart disease, joint problems, and mental health difficulties. Not everyone develops weight-related health conditions, but the risk for those is increased in overweight and obese people.

Because obesity increases the risk of getting heart disease, stroke, and some health conditions, it can reduce life expectancy.

Since the late 20th century, there has been a noticeable rise in the prevalence of obesity, which has been an increasing concern for decades. This increase is attributed to sedentary lifestyles, high-calorie diets, and shifts in food availability.


4 sources
  1. Eating highly processed foods linked to weight gain
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  2. Malnutrition in women
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  3. Prevalence of abdominal obesity and its association with cardiovascular risk among the adult population in Burkina Faso: findings from a nationwide cross-sectional study
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  4. Obesity and Cancer: A Current Overview of Epidemiology, Pathogenesis, Outcomes, and Management
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. Bradley Noon



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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.