UK doctors call for obesity to be reclassified as a 'disease'

  • 04/01/2019

Sarah Le Brocq has struggled with her weight her entire life.

"I very much had boobs and hips at primary school, I mean I remember having my first bra at primary school, it was crazy. So yeah, I felt different, I felt out of place and I couldn't wear the same clothes as my friends - so I automatically felt like I didn't want to look this way, and over the years it has gone progressively worse."

Ms Le Brocq is not alone in her battle with obesity. One in every four adults in the UK, and roughly one in five children aged 10 to 11 are considered obese.

Now the UK's Royal College of Physicians (RCP) are calling for obesity to be considered a disease, not just a lifestyle choice.

Ms Le Brocq agrees.

"I have had phases where I have lost significant amounts of weight… I thought. now this is it. now I have lost the weight, and I think a lot of people do think that - they think it is a destination. And the hardest part for me was realising that it wasn't.

"Too many people look at people that struggle with their weight, or are living with obesity and think it's their fault, and that's it's a choice and that they made that choice to get there. But I can tell you, I haven't chosen to live my life like this, it is something that has happened to me."

The RCP says that changing the way we think about obesity will help the health sector improve the problem and help those with serious obesity to receive specialist care.

"We've come to realise obesity isn't a lifestyle choice - it's something people have a genetic predisposition to and it depends on the environment we live in," says RCP president Prof Andrew Goddard.

"Recognising it as a disease allows people to understand that they have a disease and removes, certainly reduces the stigma of having obesity."

The recognition of obesity as a chronic disease would promote the development of formal healthcare policies, improve care and empathy in surgeries and hospitals and implement preventative measures, says the RCP.

"Over a hundred different variations of DNA have been identified that mean that some people will become obese and others will be protected," says Dr Rachel Batterham, professor of obesity, diabetes and endocrinology at University College London.

"We also know that once a person has developed obesity, it's almost impossible to lose that weight and keep it off. What happens is the body tries to go back to the highest weight you've ever reached."

However not everyone agrees that reclassifing obesity as a disease is the right course.

"I don't think it is a disease, it is a condition," says David Buck, senior fellow of public health and inequalities at The King's Fund, an independent health care charity.

"It is an outcome, so you or I, I am slightly overweight I think according to government statistics maybe more than that. I don't see myself as suffering from a disease, that's because of the things that I do, the environment in which I live, my lifestyle. So obesity for me is a condition, not a disease - I don't buy that at all. "

Children in the UK consume more sugar by the age of 10 than the maximum amount recommended for an 18-year-old, says Public Health England's (PHE) National Diet and Nutrition Survey published earlier this week.

PHE data shows that a third of children are starting high school overweight or obese and type 2 diabetes is on the increase in children and teenagers.