Americans view obesity as the top health concern for the nation, according to a survey of 1,509 adults conducted by the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery and NORC at the University of Chicago. However, the survey also posits that many Americans think the disease is due to lack of willpower.
The ASMBS and NORC reported that 81 percent consider obesity to be a serious national health issue. It tied with cancer as the most serious health problem.1
While 94 percent of those surveyed agreed that obesity increases a person’s risk of dying early, only 38 percent deemed obesity an actual disease.1In addition, 37 percent of adult Americans and 17 percent of underage Americans are obese, but more than one-third of those surveyed with obesity have not consulted a doctor or health professional.1
The survey indicates that many Americans think obesity is due to a person’s lifestyle choices, along with eating and exercise habits.1Consensus within the medical community, on the other hand, attributes obesity to a combination of genetic, environmental, behavioral and emotional factors.1
Furthermore, most obese Americans don’t recognize themselves as actually obese, they think of themselves as just being overweight.1 And there is a difference.
According to the CDC, the overweight person falls between the 25.0 and 30 BMI range. Someone that is obese has a body mass index of 30.0 or higher. While BMI may not always be the best indicator of someone’s health, as it varies at the individual level, it can be used as a screening tool.3
This study indicates that the conversation about obesity needs to change. It is easy to believe that if you are disciplined enough, you can become healthy. However, while there are people that are able to commit to a healthy lifestyle, 1 in 5 obese participants reported having made 20 or more attempts to lose weight through exercise or diet in their lives.2 Such a high number of failures at this weight loss method suggests that just diet and exercise don’t work for someone who is obese.
Nevertheless, issues arise from the concept of labeling obesity as a disease. Richard Gunderman, MD, wrote a story in The Atlantic positing that there are actually benefits to being obese, so it therefore cannot be a disease:
"Is obesity bad for people? For some, especially patients who are extremely overweight, the answer is almost certainly yes. Would many overweight people benefit from exercising more and eating less? Again, the answer is likely yes. But this does not make obesity a disease. Many people are not harmed by carrying extra pounds, some may actually benefit from it, and we have yet to define it authoritatively."5
However, Gunderman also acknowledges the benefits of the label in the article — obesity's association with many other health problems, pressure on health care payers to take on obesity-related services, and possibly changing the stigma.5
Other doctors have debated whether "disease" is an appropriate title, too. Some disagree.
Andrew Weil, MD, said that you can be obese and healthy, so obesity is therefore a condition.6 On the other hand, doctors like Pam M. Peeke, MD, cite the definition of "disease," which technically proves the label as accurate for obesity.6
Regardless of its title, obesity is a problem for the United States. Hopefully, this study will contribute to the development of progress in combating it. The study's results suggest that these will probably go beyond diet and exercise.
Reviewed November 9, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) Obesity rises to top health concern for Americans, but misperceptions persist. NORC at the University of Chicago. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
2) New insights into Americans’ perceptions and misperceptions of obesity treatments, and the struggles many face. NORC at the University of Chicago. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
3) Defining Adult Overweight and Obesity. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
4) The ASMBS and NORC Survey on Obesity in America. NORC at the University of Chicago. Retrieved November 1, 2016.
5) Is Obesity Really a Disease? The Atlantic. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
6) Is Obesity a Disease? Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2016.