Is obesity an actual disease? Here’s what the science says

Is obesity an actual disease? Here’s what the science says

Is obesity an actual disease? Here’s what the science says

There’s a debate on whether obesity is a complex disease or a lack of willpower. Here’s what the science has to say.

The Found Team
Last updated:
February 17, 2023
5 min read
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Did you know? It’s a science-proven fact that obesity isn’t about a lack of willpower but the result of a complex disease. The American Medical Association (AMA) made that call almost a decade ago based on the strength of research linking biology to weight. Yet there’s still a stigma that excess weight is a personal choice (many doctors, the weight loss industry—and, well, lots of people believe that). So let’s look at the research and what you can do to reach your weight care goals. 

Found is a comprehensive, medically-supported weight care program that considers factors like sleep, stress, and biology, because weight care is more complex than calories in, calories out. Found offers prescription weight loss medications, a behavior change program, and a virtual, supportive community hosted in an app where members can track their healthy habits and meet their weight care goals. 

Is obesity really a disease? 

Yes. In addition to the AMA, several other leading health organizations—including the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association, and the American Obesity Society also recognize obesity as a disease—a condition that some people don’t have control over. Obesity isn’t some kind of personal failing. By classifying obesity as a chronic condition, the AMA also hoped to improve research on the causes of obesity and other diseases linked to it, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers. Excess weight isn’t just about what size pants you wear; it’s also about the quality and length of your life. 

Thanks to science, we know now that the roots of obesity are multifaceted and based on biology. In fact, the genetic influences on obesity are estimated to be between 40 and 70 percent. For example, you could have an MC4R mutation (the melanocortin-4 receptor gene, which helps regulate energy metabolism, food intake, and body weight) or a variant of the FTO gene—everyone has the fat mass and obesity-related gene—which is associated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in obesity risk. 

Others with obesity may have metabolic disorders or confused or disrupted hunger hormone signaling—specifically leptin. This satiety hormone, released by fat cells, is responsible for telling your brain when you’re full. Excess fat can lead to too much of the hormone being pumped out and cause leptin resistance. The condition tricks your body into thinking you’re still hungry even after you’ve already eaten. Additional factors that influence obesity may be stress (chronically high levels of cortisol can slow metabolism and increase blood sugar levels and visceral fat in the belly area) or sleep. Poor sleep can alter your appetite hormones (making you feel hungrier, and increase cravings for high-carb, calorie-dense food), decrease insulin sensitivity, and increase cortisol levels at night. 

The benefits of recognizing obesity as a disease 

Identifying obesity as a disease that requires medical treatment has led to increased research efforts, improved treatment options, and better insurance coverage for weight care like prescription medications and bariatric surgery. It’s also gone a long way toward tamping down the judgment that people with excess weight are at fault. While it’s true that what you eat and how much you move do matter, it’s time that we recognize the other underlying factors of obesity, including genetics, environment, and psychology, along with other aspects. 

Found’s sustainable weight care program

Most weight loss programs offer the same diet and lifestyle recommendations for ev-er-y-one without considering each person’s unique biology. But hey, that’s why we’re here. Found provides a comprehensive, evidence-based medical treatment program for excess weight and obesity. Medication can help make the lifestyle changes you’ve already been making more achievable.  Our program gives you access to a virtual team of experts trained in obesity medicine—who can match you with prescription medication, if that’s right for you. Get started by taking our quick personal health quiz. If you qualify for the medication, you and your provider will have a virtual consultation to figure out the best path for you. And your prescription will be shipped right to your door. You can get started right away on the Found app where you’ll have a supportive community and a place to track your lifestyle changes. Found follows the latest research in obesity care, while providing a wide range of recommended treatments to address the root causes of excess weight. 

About Found

Found is among the largest medically-supported weight care clinics in the country, serving more than 200,000 members to date. To start your journey with Found, take our quiz.

Published date:
February 17, 2023
Meet the author
The Found Team
The Found Team

Sources

  • Rosen, H. J. (2014b). Is Obesity A Disease or A Behavior Abnormality? Did the AMA Get It Right? Missouri Medicine, 111(2), 104–108.
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  • Fatima, M. T., Ahmed, I., Fakhro, K. A., & Akil, A. S. A. (2022). Melanocortin‐4 receptor complexity in energy homeostasis, obesity, and drug development strategies. Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, 24(4), 583–598. https://doi.org/10.1111/dom.14618
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