Obesity causes a number of health problems for those who suffer from it. And there are a significant number of people across the United States that suffer from obesity. In fact, we often hear that obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. The condition of obesity that many Americans suffer from has now been categorized as a disease by the American Medical Association. However, three recent studies appearing in the journal Psychological Science show that labeling obesity a disease may have psychological costs to those who suffer from it. Throughout this paper, I will discuss the findings of studies that show that labeling obesity a disease can have negative psychological consequences for those suffering from it as well as the article “Should Obesity Be a ‘Disease’?” recently appearing on the New York Times website.
In June of 2013, the American Medical Association categorized obesity as a disease; in fact, the American Medical Association labeled obesity as a multi-Metabolic and hormonal disease state. Crystal Hoyt and Jeni Burnette, both psychological scientists at the University of Richmond as well as Lisa Gussman from the University of Minnesota examined the effects of the message that ‘obesity is a disease’ on obese individuals. These psychological scientists began their examination with the hypothesis that the categorization of obesity as a disease would lead to those suffering developing the belief that their weight is unchangeable and that weight management efforts are fruitless. Additionally, these psychological scientists reasoned that the message that obesity is a disease would cause obese individuals to be more likely to make poor food chooses as a result of the gist of the message that their weight problem is not a choice but instead a medical disease.
In the studies conducted by the psychological scientists, 700 people participated in online surveys. In these studies, the participants read articles concerning health and weight and were then given a number of question that they were to answer. Some survey participants read articles that categorized obesity as a disease, while other read articles that stated traditional messages concerning the dangers of access weight, still others read article that specifically stated that obesity is not a disease. The participants in these studies were classified as overage weight or obese based on their body mass index calculated from their height and weight.
The studies that the psychological scientists conducted found that the participants that read the articles that categorized obesity as a disease did not feel that dieting for the purposes of maintain or improving health was as important as the participants in the studies that read the other two articles did. Furthermore, the participants that read the articles that categorized obesity as a disease were more likely to make poor food choices that resulted in them consuming excess calories compared to the participants who read the articles with the traditional messages concerning the dangers of excess weight and the participants that read the articles that stated clearly that obesity was not a disease. It was interesting to note that the participants that read the articles that classified obesity as a disease were more likely to be satisfied with their own bodies regardless of size.
The psychological scientists concluded form these studies that the message that obesity is a disease can cause those who suffer from it to feel that they need to take less responsibility for their condition. The message that obesity is a disease suggests that the individual suffering from it is not actually responsible; this message, in turn, can cause those who are suffering from obesity that hear it to take less steps to remedy their condition.
The article “Labeling Obesity as a Disease May Have Psychological Costs” did point out that there are some positive aspects to labeling obesity as a disease. One of the positive aspects of labeling obesity as a disease is that it helps to reduce the stigma associated with it. Furthermore, it leads to the greater acceptance of different body sizes by others. The article points out that this, in turn, can encourage those suffering from obesity to participate in weight management goals and activities.
The New York Times article clearly details the finding that occurred in the studies. It states that the participants in the study that read that articles that classified obesity as a disease were more likely to choose food choices that contained higher calories; in fact, they consumed an average of seven percent more calories that the participants that received the other messages. The author as well as the researchers speculate that the likelihood to pick food choices with higher calories resulted from the fact that the shame of being obese is removed with the disease classification. The article goes on to state the way that obesity is looked at and classified by the medical community involves a series of trade-offs that all need to be examined in order to find the classification and approach to dealing with obesity that benefits the most people.