The implications of defining obesity as a disease: a report from the Association for the Study of Obesity 2021 annual conference
Luli M., Yeo G., Farrell E., Ogden J., Parretti H., Frew E., Bevan S., Brown A., Logue J., Menon V., Isack N., Lean M., McEwan C., Gately P., Williams S., Astbury N., Bryant M., Clare K., Dimitriadis GK., Finlayson G., Heslehurst N., Johnson B., Le Brocq S., Roberts A., McGinley P., Mueller J., O'Kane M., Batterham RL., Miras AD.
Unlike various countries and organisations, including the World Health Organisation and the European Parliament, the United Kingdom does not formally recognise obesity as a disease. This report presents the discussion on the potential impact of defining obesity as a disease on the patient, the healthcare system, the economy, and the wider society. A group of speakers from a wide range of disciplines came together to debate the topic bringing their knowledge and expertise from backgrounds in medicine, psychology, economics, and politics as well as the experience of people living with obesity. The aim of their debate was not to decide whether obesity should be classified as a disease but rather to explore what the implications of doing so would be, what the gaps in the available data are, as well as to provide up-to-date information on the topic from experts in the field. There were four topics where speakers presented their viewpoints, each one including a question-and-answer section for debate. The first one focused on the impact that the recognition of obesity could have on people living with obesity regarding the change in their behaviour, either positive and empowering or more stigmatising. During the second one, the impact of defining obesity as a disease on the National Health Service and the wider economy was discussed. The primary outcome was the need for more robust data as the one available does not represent the actual cost of obesity. The third topic was related to the policy implications regarding treatment provision, focusing on the public's power to influence policy. Finally, the last issue discussed, included the implications of public health actions, highlighting the importance of the government's actions and private stakeholders. The speakers agreed that no matter where they stand on this debate, the goal is common: to provide a healthcare system that supports and protects the patients, strategies that protect the economy and broader society, and policies that reduce stigma and promote health equity. Many questions are left to be answered regarding how these goals can be achieved. However, this discussion has set a good foundation providing evidence that can be used by the public, clinicians, and policymakers to make that happen.