“Unfortunately, many healthcare professionals, as well as patients, consider obesity to be a lifestyle disease; that people are just lacking in willpower,” noted Susan Yanovski, co-director of the Office of Obesity Research at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) in a video by the Journal of the American Medical Association. “And if they could just push away from the table, they wouldn’t have a problem.”

“But obesity is really a very complex disease,” Yanovski said.

In fact, for years, if not decades, the National Institutes of Health, American Medical Association, World Health Organization, and other health authorities have called obesity a disease.

Why obesity myths cause harm

“We’ve tried to put to bed a lot of myths about obesity,” says Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at NIDDK.

“It’s not about an absence of willpower or an inability to count calories. It’s probably not about carbs or fat overall. It’s something much more complicated.” 

healthcare provider talking to patient
The American Medical Association and other health authorities now call obesity a disease. That puts the focus on the complex conditions that drive obesity—and not on myths about a lack of willpower.
Photographee.eu - stock.adobe.com.

And the outdated belief that you can blame people for obesity is damaging.

“The idea that obesity is a personal failing has heaped tremendous stigma, bias, and discrimination on people with obesity,” says Kelly Brownell, professor of public policy at Duke University.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease takes the onus away from personal responsibility and places it on the conditions that are driving the problem.”

What causes obesity?

“We don’t have a complete picture yet, but our understanding is that the brain plays a key role,” says Hall. “It senses internal signals from our hormones, from our nervous system, from the GI tract, and elsewhere.”

“Both the food environment and the sensory aspects of the foods also play a critical role in food intake and in what weight our bodies are defending.”

Genes also play a key role, maybe in part by making some people moreor less—susceptible to what many call a toxic food environment.

More on obesity

Keep reading this article

Click here
Spring & Summer Vegetables cover


Spring & Summer Vegetables

Eat more vegetables! Giving advice is easy. Figuring out what to do is another thing entirely. In this installment of The Healthy Cook’s Kitchen series, chef Kate Sherwood works her veggie magic in dishes like Rainbow Carrot Salad, Roasted Ratatouille, and Zucchini “Butter.”

Order now