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Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Oct;25(10):1401-4.

Is obesity a disease?

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New York Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University Institute of Human Nutrition, New York 10025, USA.



There is disagreement about whether obesity should be considered a disease, as can be seen by inconsistent usage and the advocacy of conflicting views in popular and scholarly articles. However, neither writers who refer to obesity as a disease nor those who question whether it is a disease have generally provided a definition of disease and then offered evidence that obesity does or does not fit the definition.


The characteristics of obesity were examined to determine whether they fit the common and recurring elements of definitions of disease taken from a sample of authoritative English language dictionaries.


Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI, kg/m(2)) or percentage body fat in excess of some cut-off value, though clearly a threat to health and longevity, lacks a universal concomitant group of symptoms or signs and the impairment of function which characterize disease according to traditional definitions. While it might nevertheless be possible to achieve a social consensus that it is a disease despite its failure to fit traditional models of disease, the merits of such a goal are questionable. Labeling obesity a disease may be expedient but it is not a necessary step in a campaign to combat obesity and it may be interpreted as self-serving advocacy without a sound scientific basis.

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