Is Obesity a Disease or a Choice?

July 05, 2018

In 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity a disease that requires a range of interventions to advance treatment and prevention. While some physicians at the time argued that behavior and dietary choices play a key role in weight gain, many other professional organizations, including the Obesity Society, soon followed the AMA's lead.

Five years later, the medical community has grown more comfortable with the idea that obesity is driven by pathophysiologic processes, just like other chronic diseases. And as such, effective weight management is going to require a paradigm shift in the way healthcare professionals think about obesity, Lee Kaplan, MD, PhD, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, recently told delegates at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2018 meeting in Toronto. Otherwise, patients are doomed to failure and blame, despite the fact that the medical community should be shouldering some of the responsibility for not having developed more effective interventions, he added.

Whether caused by nature, nurture, or some of both, obesity carries substantial adverse health risks, Lee stressed. Type 2 diabetes, for example, is common in the setting of obesity, as are hypertension, dyslipidemia, sleep apnea, and fatty liver disease.

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