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Thinking Obesity is a Disease Makes You More Likely to Gorge on Fatty Foods

Apr 21, 2014 12:51 PM EDT
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Thinking of obesity as a disease may make a person more likely to gorge on high-calorie fatty foods.

"The term disease suggests that bodies, physiology, and genes are malfunctioning. By invoking physiological explanations for obesity, the disease label encourages the perception that weight is unchangeable," Crystal L. Hoyt of the University of Richmond and her colleagues wrote, according to The New York Times.

In 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized obesity as a disease. Health officials hoped the new classification would draw more attention to the epidemic - one that affects approximately one in three Americans.

Published in the journal Psychological Science, the study observed over 700 participants who read a certain New York Times article that discussed the AMA's new definition of obesity. What researchers realized is that understanding obesity as a disease may actually undermine important weight-loss efforts.

"The term disease suggests that bodies, physiology, and genes are malfunctioning. By invoking physiological explanations for obesity, the disease label encourages the perception that weight is unchangeable," Hoyt said, according to The Information Daily.

The message did, however, have a positive impact on body image - obese participants reported greater satisfaction with their weight after reading the article. On the flip side, this also meant readers were likely to be less concerned about their weight and, consequently, more likely to reach for high-calorie foods.

Researchers do not dispute AMA's new taxonomy, but the council does question whether their decision will have a positive impact.

"Given the existing limitations of B.M.I. to diagnose obesity in clinical practice, it is unclear that recognizing obesity as a disease, as opposed to a 'condition' or 'disorder,' will result in improved health outcomes," AMA officials wrote, via the Times.

The vote of the AMA House of Delegates went against the conclusions of the association's Council on Science and Public Health. The council did not consider obesity a disease mainly because the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index, is simple and flawed, they said.

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