Obesity Is a Disease, Docs Group Says

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Obesity is not just a risk factor for health conditions, it is a disease in and of itself, according to the nation's largest group of physicians.

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association voted to recognize obesity as a disease. The decision is meant to draw attention to the obesity epidemic — 1 in 3 Americans is obese — and to improve access to weight loss treatments, which are not always covered by insurance companies.

However, the issue is controversial. (A disease is generally thought of as an abnormal state, or a condition that prevents the body from functioning properly.)

Critics of the move say that it's possible to be obese and healthy, and that calling obesity a disease categorizes a large group of Americans as "sick."

"If we call obesity a disease, it would mean automatically, a third of Americans are in a diseased state or sick," Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a general internist at Cambridge Health Alliance, told LiveScience in an interview last year.

The vote went against the recommendation of an AMA committee that had studied the issue. The committee pointed out that the measure often used to categorize people as obese — body mass index — has flaws. Some people can have a high BMI because they carry a lot of muscle mass, not body fat.

Supporters of the decision say it may reduce the stigma against obesity, because it highlights the fact that obesity is not always a matter of self-control.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.