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Epidemiology News Briefs - July 11, 2013

Obesity Called A Disease Not A Risk Factor

A new attention-grabbing policy statement from the American Medical Association calling obesity a disease has succeeded in garnering national attention to the topic and has generated a controversy about the wisdom of this decision. Particularly striking for epidemiologists and public health professionals is the fact the AMA vote came despite a recommendation from its Council on Science and Public Health not to do so.

The vote in favor of the AMA resolution was supported by 7 professional medical associations which introduced the resolution at the recent AMA meeting. The group supporting the resolution gave several reasons for their conclusion and used an analogy with lung cancer to make their point. “The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes…”

The Council on Science and Public Health had argued that “without a single, clear, authoritative, and widely-accepted definition of disease, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether or not obesity is a medical disease state. Similarly, a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity remains elusive…What is clear is that a better measure of obesity than BMI alone is needed.”

For a table listing all the reasons for and against labeling obesity a disease, visit


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