Figures show 29 percent of adults in England are now obese. But scientists say the belief that obesity is self-inflicted is at odds with evidence that more than 200 genes – as well as social factors – can influence weight. Professor John Wilding of Liverpool University and Vicki Mooney of the European Coalition for People living with Obesity said more people would seek medical help if obesity was reclassified.
They said in the British Medical Journal: “The Oxford Dictionary defines disease as ‘a disorder of structure or function… especially one that produces specific symptoms… and is not simply a direct result of physical injury’.
“Obesity, in which excess body fat has accumulated to such an extent that health may be adversely affected, meets that definition and the World Health Organisation has considered it a disease since 1936.”
The pair say that as body weight, fat distribution and risk of complications are strongly influenced by biology, “it is not an individual’s fault if they develop obesity”.
They said: “But patients delay discussing obesity with their GP by an average of six years.
“This is perhaps because of the common misconception that ‘eat less and move more’ will cure obesity and that this will be their prescription.”
But Dr Richard Pile, of Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group, said calling obesity a disease would encourage the fatalistic view that “genetics are destiny”.
He said: “If labelling obesity as a disease was harmless then it wouldn’t really matter.
“But self-determination is vital when it comes to individuals making the best decisions for themselves.”