The implications of defining obesity as a disease: a report from the Association for the Study of Obesity 2021 annual conference

Migena Luli, Giles Yeo, Emma Farrell, Jane Ogden, Helen Parretti, Emma Frew, Stephen Bevan, Adrian Brown, Jennifer Logue, Vinod Menon, Nadya Isack, Michael Lean, Chris McEwan, Paul Gately, Simon Williams, Nerys Astbury, Maria Bryant, Kenneth Clare, Georgios K. Dimitriadis, Graham FinlaysonNicola Heslehurst, Brett Johnson, Sarah Le Brocq, Audrey Roberts, Patrick McGinley, Julia Mueller, Mary O'Kane, Rachel L. Batterham, Alexander Dimitri Miras

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number101962
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
Early online date6 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 6 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The conference was funded by Novo Nordisk , Rhythm and Slimming World. The sponsors had no involvement in the topics discussed or the writing of the manuscript. The work cited by EFa has received funding from the Innovative Medicines Initiative 2 Joint Undertaking (JU) (under grant agreement no. 875534 ). The JU receives support from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and EFPIA and T1D Exchange, JDRF , and Obesity Action Coalition ( ). NMA is supported by NIHR Biomedical Research Centre Oxford, Diabetes UK , Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation and NIHR School of Primary Care research and the views expressed are those of Dr Nerys Astbury and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. Also, RLB is funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research, the Sir Jules Thorn Charitable Trust , and the Rosetrees Trust . We would like to thank Red Hot Irons for organising the logistics for the event and our sponsors Novo Nordisk , Rhythm and Slimming World .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors


  • Obesity
  • Policy
  • Public health
  • Healthcare system
  • Health equity


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