Calling Obesity A Disease Dooms Dieters

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In June of 2013, the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease. The organization had its reasons. For starters, obesity leads to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, early-onset degenerative arthritis…and just about every other illness on the planet. In addition, people with obesity face a very difficult time overcoming their condition: Short of highly invasive stomach procedures, very few treatments succeed in helping people lose weight and maintain that weight loss. Finally, the organization may have been motivated by the desire to reduce stigma surrounding obesity; by labeling obesity as a disease, it hoped to signal that people with obesity cannot be wholly blamed for their affliction.

But will deflecting blame from obese people backfire? Now stricken with a “disease,” will obese people be less motivated to lose weight?

This is the question Crystal Hoyt and colleagues set out to answer in a study published in the prestigious journal, Psychological Science. Their concern? As they put it: “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.”

To see whether this concern was justified, they decided to run some studies. In one, they asked people how concerned they were about their weight. They also asked these people to select a sandwich for a hypothetical lunch. And they varied whether people in the study were exposed to a message that obesity was a disease. (To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)

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