T Nation

Obesity a Disease


This is not a bash fat people thread

I am sitting in my nutrition class today and my nutrition teacher calls obesity a disease and says scientists have found an obesity gene. At first I didn't really pay attention but on my way home from class and I started to dwell on it and it just didn't sit right with me.

To me calling it a disease is saying that a persons actions play no part in it. It takes personal responsibility away and justifies it to a person. I would agree that it is a lifestyle or an addiction but not a disease. Also, this gene my teacher was talking about was a gene that regulates leptin in the hypothalmus. Leptin does play a part in weight mamagement but how do you call a gene that regulates a certain hormone or body function an obesity gene? I feel that environmental factors play way more of a role than genes in obesity.

Am I way off base here? I can take critisism if I am wrong. It is important to me because I plan on going in to the medical field and I would like to hear others point of view.


There is room to acknowledge a person's genetics while still understanding a person's responsibility to cope with the genetics they were given. Just like people who are blessed with great genetics still need to train to exploit them, people with genetic disadvantage can understand their genetics to serve them better.

It is flawed to deny biological influences on health, even where it is in our control because it impedes our ability to understand and cope with biology. As a medical professional, you need to acknowledge, understand and respect biology while applying your knowledge to help people. If you want to ignore biology and just call people fatties, you are not only going to fail to help people understand how to help themselves you are not practicing medicine. The current popular view is what you are suggesting and people are only getting fatter.

I don't think it means telling people biology is destiny either. I think the message needs to be the opposite. But it doesn't mean biology is not a factor.


I think labeling it a disease is a cop out as well. Some people may be more predisposed to adipose tissue than others though.

Anyway, an article on food addiction here.

Cupcakes may be addictive, just like cocaine.

A growing body of medical research at leading universities and government laboratories suggests that processed foods and sugary drinks made by the likes of PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT) aren't simply unhealthy. They can hijack the brain in ways that resemble addictions to cocaine, nicotine and other drugs.


It sounds like an excuse to me, but I have zero medical knowledge.

In those news link about that fit2fat2fit guy, there were many comments like "My genes betrayed me, so I can't be thin" or "It's very easy to be like that if you got your genes". With that attitude, very little can be done.


a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.

Sounds pretty apt to me. Disease refers to physiological dysfunction. It doesn't matter if it's self-inflicted or not. Would you say someone with lung cancer isn't diseased?

I think you're projecting a bias here, and hearing something that your lecturer didn't actually say.


You could google the hunger winter in the Netherlands and the subsequent rise of diabetes in people who were hit by starvation mode while they were at just the right time of their mothers pregnancy with.

Meaning, it is not just genes, but genes, environment and the inheritance of "learned" traits i.e. epigenetics and never shall those be untangled.

You could say, well, but, behavior to which I would reply, yeah well, genes, the environment and whatnot forms behavior too.

Finally, if some tells you that they have found A or THE gene for something or other, put your brain into ignore mode so that their sloppy thinking may not soil the purity of your well ordered intellectual universe.

Unless of course your mind looks like the average garage, then just put in on a shelf somewhere.


Not stopping eating is not a disease. What, germs start eating your brain and turn you into a zombie who justs wants to eat all day, without conciousness? I have had with conversation with my obese sister a million times. IF you have thyroid problems, or some kind of illness which causes you even if you eat 1000 calories clean food a day, you gain fat, then you have a disease.

ALL other factors, gain fat easily and blah blah blah, are just plain stupid. I haven't seen not 1 person who was fat, went 6 months to the gym, ate clean and correctly and didn't lose a fuckload of weight. In conclusion, if someone is fat, its their fault, not their genes. It;w like saying that genes made Ronnie Coleman who he is.


Thanks everyone for the replies.


I by no means would ever exclude biology as a factor. I just feel that people over emphasise it and under emphasise the role of personal responsibility. Over 34% of Americans are considered obese a number that has doubled in thirty years. This number has tripled in children. Biology doesn't work this fast. I think as a medical professional it is vital that we educate people in both areas at least equally. By teaching people that obesity is a disease I feel you are taking self regulation and responsibilty out of the hands of a patient and giving them justification for their unhealthy patterns. They look for a magic pill or surgery for a way out because they feel since it's a disease it is beyond their control. Also, teaching this in schools to future medical professions will only compound the situation.


Thanks for the definition. I looked it up earlier and my thoughts on it was the act of being obese is not a disease because none of these things are really happening. Obesity can definetly lead to diseases but the state itself is not. Just like being a smoker is not a disease, it' an addiction, but it can definetly lead to lung cancer. I fully understood what my teacher was saying that's why it sat so poorly with me. I don't feel that I'm biased I just feel the need for truth ,not sugar coating, and for people to accept some responsibilty for their actions.


That's a good point about Ronnie Coleman, and I think it's the reason stuff like this irks a lot of us who put in the time and effort to exercise and eat right. When they say they can't help being fat, it's like saying that we don't have to work hard every single day to stay in shape.


Thanks for the link that was an interesting read. It kind fits in to what I was saying that food is an addiction. This could be a step in the right direction and sway government in to regulating the food industry more which could open up a huge can of worms but ultimatley may be necessary.


It still sounds to me like you're applying a moral judgement to clinical terminology. Calling it a disease doesn't absolve obese people from responsibility.

You would agree that obesity is a state of physiological dysfunction, would you not? You must, for if it was normal and healthy to be obese, nobody would have a problem with it. But it's not a "disease" because it's self-inflicted? Splitting hairs, methinks.




They just recently had a segment on a CBC radio one program "Quirks and Quarks" about epigenetics.

This is a link to the pod cast.


it's about 10mins long.

It's about the biological fingerprint of poverty(obesity is mentioned).


[i]"Alcoholism is a disease, but it's the only one you can get yelled at for having.

'Goddamn it Otto, you are an alcoholic. Goddamn it Otto, you have Lupus.'
One of those two doesn't sound right."[/i]

~ Mitch Hedberg


I'm willing to bet the amount of people with an "obesity gene" is pretty small.

Most people are just lazy with a shitty diet using actual diseases, thyroid deficiencies et cetera as an excuse.

Is the article implying that the last 15 years or so "obesity genes" just started popping up in ridiculous numbers?


What about the fat fucks that lack this gene? Is there an "eat like shit and sit on your ass" gene?


Actually, 50% of the US population with European ancestry carry this gene. A variant of this FTO gene can also cause a loss of brain tissue with aging. However, physical activity and a healthy diet can prevent obesity related health problems in this population.



Interesting. Still a poor excuse. Technically this "epidemic" should have existed throughout the entire history of the US and EU. Evidently this gene only holds sway when you eat processed junk in excess and don't exercise. What a crock.


I've lived in Spain, Norway (very shortly) and Estonia.

Estonia has a vastly inferior amount of overweight people compared to those two other countries. People are poorer and there's less junk food available.

Or maybe that "obesity gene" is lost somewhere...


Ever the source of knowledge. I am still thinking about what you said about soy in baby formula months ago.