Obesity is a complex chronic disease that has multiple causing factors. Multiple aspects like genetics, psychological, environmental, and socioeconomic factors can affect one’s health.
In this blog, we will see why obesity is a disease and not a lifestyle disorder. Keep reading to understand some basics about obesity.
What is Obesity and How is it Measured?
Obesity is a multifactorial health issue that indicates the accumulation of excess body fat. Factors like genes, environmental settings, health conditions, medications, socioeconomic and psychological aspects can make one gain significant weight.
Carrying this excess fat on the body comes with related complications like hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, infertility and the like. But do you know that losing even 5% of total weight can prevent major health conditions?
To measure obesity, experts use measurements like height, weight and waist circumference. Some of these calculation methods include:
- BMI (Body Mass Index):Body Mass Index (BMI) is a calculation based on one’s weight and height. BMI is one of the scientific methods to measure obesity and evaluate obesity-related health risks. It is a simple DIY way to know if you are living with obesity so you can take appropriate health action. As per guidelines for Asians, we can be classified as overweight, underweight, normal weight or obese.BMI calculator is an initial method to calculate obesity, but it is not the only method to depend upon. There can be cases where a person with a 30 BMI has no excess fat on the body. In such cases, additional measures to assess obesity and related health risks are used.
- Waist Circumference:
If you have excess fat around your waist (abdominal obesity), you are at risk of severe health complications. Even if your BMI doesn’t come under obesity class 2, because of your increased waist circumference, you are at risk of obesity.You can measure your waist circumference by measuring it above the hip bones. A waist circumference above 40 inches for men and over 35 inches for women is considered unhealthy.There may be scenarios where both the above measurements cannot diagnose obesity. It would be helpful if you consulted an obesity specialist for the same.
To debate whether obesity is a disease or a lifestyle disorder, let’s learn about both terms separately.
What is a Disease and Why Obesity is One?
According to various definitions and meanings, a disease3 is:
- A condition of a part, organ or body.
- It can result from infection, nutritional, parasites, environmental, dietary, or genetic reasons.
- It shows signs and symptoms.
- It affects the normal function of the affected part or organ.
Medical associations like AMA, WHO, World Obesity Federation, and Canada and Canadian Medical Association all consider obesity as a disease.
However, acceptance of Obesity as a disease amongst the general public may still be poor.
Obesity is a complex and multifactorial disease as:
- It is more than just eating in excess amounts.
- It has multiple causes and most of them are still under research.
- It shows some symptoms like weight gain, heartburn, etc.
- It has no single treatment and a different combination of treatments can be required.
- The interplay of hunger and satiety hormone (Ghrelin and Leptin respectively) influence obesity.
- It is the underlying cause of a lot of health complications including cancer, Type-2 diabetes, cancer, among others.
Why is Obesity Not a Lifestyle Disorder?
A lifestyle disorder or disease is a health condition related to one’s lifestyle. These are non-communicable diseases that are caused by poor lifestyle habits such as
- Lack of physical activity,
- Poor eating habits,
- Consumption of alcohol or drugs,
- Smoking, etc.
Undoubtedly, environmental setting and lifestyle choices are some of the common factors behind obesity but classifying it completely as a lifestyle disorder can be wrong.
As other aspects like genetics, socioeconomic and psychological factors can also make you gain weight, blaming just a poor lifestyle makes no sense.
If obesity had just a single cause from the above list, it could have been termed a lifestyle disorder. But when there are other proven causes of obesity, it may be right to say that it is more of a disease and not a lifestyle disorder.
Obesity is a complex disease with multiple factors and no single treatment that suits all.
“Obesity is not rocket science but it is more than complicated,”
-Dr. George Bray,
Between multiple ongoing research and studies on whether obesity is a disease, one thing we can conclude is that calling it a lifestyle disorder is incorrect. A person might gain weight due to overeating and less physical movement. In contrast, another person might gain weight because of their genetics. In this case, lifestyle management tips can help the former but might not help the latter.
If you have experienced significant weight gain, consult an expert to help you start your journey to managing obesity. The expert will work closely with you to ensure the best obesity treatment.
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- Disease of obesity. (n.d.). https://asmbs.org/patients/disease-of-obesity
- Heshka S et al, Debate: Is obesity a disease? Int J Obesity. 2001;25:1401–1404.
- Speakman JR. Fat: an evolving issue. Dis Models Mech. 2012;5:569–573
- Rosen H. Is Obesity A Disease or A Behavior Abnormality? Did the AMA Get It Right?. Mo Med. 2014;111(2):104-108.