Filed Under: Uncategorized

From the Told-You-So Files: Labeling Obesity a “Disease” Might Backfire

Cupcake PanicWe have been skeptical of classifying obesity as a disease since 2003, arguing that doing so would lead people to use less personal responsibility as they come to believe they’re helpless. This, in turn, could lead people to choose higher-calorie foods or even exercise less, ultimately leading to more obesity. While the American Medical Association (AMA) unfortunately decided to ignore common sense and classified obesity as a disease, a new study from researchers at the University of Richmond suggests that we were right to be skeptical, and that this pronouncement might have unintended consequences.

The University of Richmond academics found that classifying obesity as a disease leads some obese people to choose higher-calorie foods. When observing obese participants who read a New York Times article about the AMA classifying obesity as a disease, the researchers noted that participants were then more likely to choose higher-calorie foods. They wrote, “The term disease suggests that bodies, physiology, and genes are malfunctioning. By invoking physiological explanations for obesity, the disease label encourages the perception that weight is unchangeable.”

As we noted when the AMA decided to classify obesity as a disease, “If we’re going to win the ‘war’ on obesity, we cannot afford to have overweight individuals say to themselves, ‘I can’t help it, I’m sick.’”

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