Is obesity a disease?

Two-thirds of UK adults are either overweight or obese

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Is obesity a disease?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

Obesity continues to be on the rise in the UK - with two-thirds adults either overweight or obese. But what causes the health problem?

Some doctors believe that obesity should be classed as a disease to help people seek treatment.

However, others argue it is the lack of personal responsibility.

The Claim

Obesity is not a choice driven by greed – it is a disease epidemic, The Sun reports.

Doctors have said that it should treated like a disease in order to help more people seek treatment. They argue the idea that being overweight is self-inflicted and an individual's own fault is "wrong".

John Wilding, professor of medicine at the University of Liverpool, and Vicki Mooney, executive director of the European Coalition for People living with Obesity, said treating it as a disease "should help reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by many people with obesity".

Writing in the British Medical Journal, they explain: "The Oxford Dictionary defines disease as 'a disorder of structure or function ... especially one that produces specific symptoms ... and is not simply a direct result of physical injury'.

"Obesity, in which excess body fat has accumulated to such an extent that health may be adversely affected, meets that definition, and the World Health Organisation has considered it a disease since 1936.

"Studies in twins show that 40 to 70 per cent of the variability in weight is inherited. More than 200 gene variations influence weight, and those that increase weight are more common in people with severe obesity and less likely to be found in people who are thin."

They added: "Thus body weight, fat distribution, and risk of complications are strongly influenced by biology - it is not an individual's fault if they develop obesity."

The Counterclaim

However, the Telegraph's Celia Walden argues that obesity is not an illness - and there's only one thing to blame.

She says that a lack of personal responsibility could be the very important reasob behind obesity. She also notes that treating obesity as a disease raises the concern about perception.

Walden writes: "That if obesity were a disease rather than ‘an abnormal state of health that interferes with normal feelings of wellbeing’ it would turn sufferers into victims who far from being abused in the street should be treated with the kindness and compassion they deserve...

"But I don’t believe that seeing yourself as a victim of something – and having free will and discipline removed from the equation – is very helpful in terms of recovery.

"Indeed it could easily have the opposite effect, with ‘sufferers’ adopting a fatalistic attitude towards something that they believe they have no control over."

The Facts

Two-thirds of UK adults are either overweight or obese - with one third of these obese, official health surveys show.

Figures from the NHS reveal that the percentage of obese adults has increased from 26 per cent in 2016 to 29 per cent in 2018. Just over 20 per cent of children leaving primary school are also obese.

They found that over 100,000 hospital admissions were directly attributable to obesity. There were more than 700,000 obesity-related admissions in 2017/18 - up by 10,000 on the previous year.

According to Cancer Research UK, being overweight or obese is the UK's biggest cause of cancer after smoking.

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