The Obesity Society Updates Position on Obesity

New Statement Focuses on Obesity as a Chronic Disease

Silver Spring, Maryland, UNITED STATES

Silver Spring, MD, Dec. 20, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Top leaders of The Obesity Society (TOS) have updated the scientific nonprofit’s 2008 position statement on obesity. The new report classifies obesity as a worldwide, non-communicable chronic disease.

“The science of obesity has advanced over the past decade, leading TOS to affirm, update and strengthen its position on obesity as a disease that afflicts all age groups,” said TOS President Steven B. Heymsfield, MD, FTOS, professor and director of the Metabolism and Body Composition Laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. Heymsfield and TOS Vice President Cathy Kotz, PhD, FTOS, both noted that multiple health societies and organizations have recognized obesity as a disease since the initial TOS position statement. Kotz, however, added that a large degree of misconception remains.

“Obesity meets all criteria for being a disease, and therefore, should be characterized as such,” said Kotz, professor and director of graduate studies at the University of Minnesota’s Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology in Minneapolis. “This recognition impacts how individuals are viewed and should reduce the stigma associated with it. The statement is needed so that the public and policymakers can make informed decisions regarding the healthcare surrounding obesity.”

Ania Jastreboff, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine (endocrinology and metabolism) and pediatrics (pediatric endocrinology) at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., added that “obesity should be treated with the same rigor, persistence, and dedication as any other chronic disease—with steadfast care and compassion for each individual patient and inclusive insurance coverage for comprehensive obesity treatment.” Jastreboff is a member of the TOS Scientific Review Committee and Annual Program Committee, and a Diplomate of the American Board of Obesity Medicine.

The report’s authors take the position that obesity is a multi-causal chronic disease recognized across the lifespan resulting from long-term, positive, energy imbalance with development of excess adiposity that over time leads to structural abnormalities, physiological derangements, and functional impairments. The disease of obesity increases the risk of developing other chronic diseases, including but not limited to diabetes, hypertension, cancer and cardiovascular disease, and is associated with an increased risk for premature mortality.

"One important feature of this updated statement from TOS is the position that obesity, even in childhood, is a disease. Too often pediatric obesity is chalked up to ineffective parenting and/or lack of willpower on the part of the child. In fact, when obesity surfaces in childhood, it may reflect a particularly aggressive form of the disease likely driven by a strong biological component. Therefore, pediatric obesity should be taken seriously by all stakeholders,” said Aaron Kelly, PhD, past chair of the TOS Pediatric Obesity Section and co-director of the University of Minnesota Center for Pediatric Obesity Medicine.

TOS ascribes to the position that the benefits of defining obesity as a disease outweigh the commonly advanced counterarguments. For instance, that excess adiposity should be viewed as an intermediate risk factor rather than as a disease per se or that medicalizing obesity would increase rather than decrease some of the adverse social and psychological consequences for those afflicted, according to the report.

"Recognizing obesity as a disease neither discounts the role of the individual to manage their health nor does it take the onus off of policymakers to promote healthful food and physical activity environments. Most simply, this designation implies that as a society, we should take obesity as seriously as other behavior-related diseases that affect our collective health,” concluded Society Councilor for Advocacy/Public Affairs/Regulatory Scott Kahan, MD, FTOS, of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.

Jastreboff, Kotz, Kahan, Kelly and Heymsfield authored the statement. The authors state the importance of moving beyond a debate centering on whether obesity is a chronic disease to advance the dialogue toward identifying and implementing solutions. TOS has outlined 13 objectives, including recognizing the need for research funding, reducing stigma and discrimination, educating healthcare providers, and promoting the need for increased obesity prevention and treatments, in addition to structural and environmental changes in workplaces, schools and communities.

For more information, read the position statement in the January 2019 issue of TOS’ scientific journal Obesity.


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The Obesity Society (TOS) is the leading organization of scientists and health professionals devoted to understanding and reversing the epidemic of obesity and its adverse health, economic and societal effects. Combining the perspective of physicians and other clinicians, scientists, policymakers and patients, TOS promotes innovative research, education, and evidence-based clinical care to improve the health and well-being of all people with obesity. For more information, visit and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.


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