Is Obesity a Disease? American Medical Association (AMA) thinks so.

Earlier this week, at their annual meeting, they announced they were officially recognizing obesity as a disease. It’s a move that will have far-reaching effects on the American healthcare system, in that it will raise awareness and spur action on the part of physicians, who are historically reluctant to discuss weight with their patients. It may also encourage more insurers to cover obesity treatment and, hopefully, prevention efforts.

Much of the attention surrounding this new classification has focused on semantic issues (what is a disease, anyway, and how does it differ from a condition or disorder?) and on the fact that the most widely-used measure of obesity, the Body Mass Index or BMI, is an imperfect one.

While that particular debate continues, AICR maintains our strong, evidence-based recommendation to maintain a healthy body weight because carrying excess body fat is a major cancer risk. Specifically, body fatness increases risk for seven different kinds of cancer:

  • esophageal cancer
  • pancreatic cancer
  • colorectal cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • postmenopausal breast cancer
  • gallbladder cancer

In fact, AICR estimates that excess body fat alone is responsible for over 100,000 cancers in the U.S. each year. Next to not smoking, staying at a healthy body weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer.

Which is why we at AICR hope that these new efforts by the AMA, the US Congress and other entities remain focused across the spectrum of weight gain. AICR offers help to individuals and health professionals on losing weight and keeping it off. But treatment is only one aspect of any disease.

Preventing obesity is vital. Because preventing obesity means preventing cancer, heart disease, diabetes and a host of other health complications. It’s as close to a magic bullet as we’ll get.

What do you think? Is obesity a disease? Does classifying it as one change how your think about it?