The question as to whether obesity should be classed a disease has been rumbling on for years.
The World Obesity Federation (WOF) is hoping that by classifying obesity as a disease, doctors will take a more holistic view of obesity and will increase the focus on obesity treatment and prevention.
It also believes it will help remove the feeling that patients alone are responsible for excess weight.
On the flip side, some are concerned that classifying obesity as a disease removes an element of personal responsibility and is a dangerous path to go down.
Speaking to Food Navigator, professor John Wilding, professor of Medicine & Honorary Consultant Physician, University Hospital Aintree, and the author of a paper which scrutinised the arguments for classifying obesity as a chronic relapsing disease, said: “Once you classify obesity as a disease then perhaps doctors and public health physicians will start thinking about the problem differently.
“Rather than blaming the individual which is definitely not the thing to do, we have to look at the causes within society and we have to think about how to treat it as a disease rather than just blaming the individual and telling them just to get on with it which doesn’t really work.”
According to Wilding, a public education process is needed to vanquish the stigma associated with obesity.
“Stigma is a major problem for obesity. You can raise money for research into cancer by rattling a tin outside Sainsbury’s and probably fill it up if you are raising money for breast cancer.
“What people maybe don’t recognise is that a third of breast cancer is actually caused by obesity. But if you rattled that tin for obesity you probably wouldn’t get anywhere.”
Impact on healthcare costs
Reclassifying obesity as a disease could have benefits in countries where health service costs are funded from insurance schemes that limit payments for non-disease conditions or risk factors.
But Wilding says the cost to the NHS will still be there.
“Changing the label doesn’t necessarily change the cost, because the cost is there anywhere. We are already spending more than 10% of the NHS budget on diabetes, for example, which is obviously obesity related,” he told us.
Along with the World Obesity Federation, obesity is also recognised as a disease by the American Medical Association, which previously referred to it as an “urgent chronic condition” and the World Health Organisation.
“It is increasingly becoming the case across the world,” professor Wilding told us, saying there was a “snowball effect” as the reclassification of obesity as a disease becomes more widespread.
The WOF is now looking to change the mind of those doubters, who believe that obesity shouldn’t be classified as other diseases
The WOF has published its support for defining obesity as a chronic, relapsing disease on the Obesity Reviews publication.
The statement was put together by a scientific committee of the WOF which concluded that obesity fits the epidemiological model of a disease process expects that the toxic or pathological agency is diet-ranted rather than a microbe.