On September 11th, the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH) in London hosted a debate,“ Obesity should be recognised as a disease? ”. World Obesity Federation CEO, Johanna Ralston was invited to present on the side of obesity as a disease, and a total of four other speakers presented various countering views to this.
Based on the premise that almost one in three people in the UK have obesity, it has been described as the new smoking in terms of its impact on our health. But should people living with obesity be labelled as having a disease? And is smoking – a modifiable risk factor – the right analogy?
The debate speakers looked at both sides of the issue, including what it would mean beyond the clinical landscape to recognize obesity as a disease. At the outset, an informal show of hands indicated that almost all present did not feel obesity was a disease, and as the debate continued, the main discovery was that both sides of the issue were much closer than one might have expected. That is, people who believe obesity as a disease also believe that systems outside of health must be addressed in order to effectively support and treat the person with obesity, while those on the “other side” agreed that stigma in the health system was harmful and many agreed that recognition as a disease could potentially help.
A key point was that, in many low- and middle-income countries, the fact that obesity is not understood as a disease sometimes results in dubious practices being made available – the need for guidelines and standards of care is especially needed to counter this.
In the end, another ten or so people were persuaded that obesity should indeed be recognized as a disease, while the overall response to the debate was that there need to be more conversations like this, around a matter that affects so many and for which help and support are urgently needed.
You can view the recording here.