Fat-Shaming: UK Must Label Obesity an Illness, Not Lifestyle Choice, Doctors Say

The UK cannot reduce the prevalence of obesity without recognising it as a disease instead of a lifestyle choice, experts from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) warned on Thursday.

The UK has become Western Europe's most obese nation, with 30 percent of its population classified as obese and tripling in figures since 1980, according to data from the World Health Organisation. NHS statistics also show that health services spend roughly £6bn on obesity a year and over 30,000 lives are lost due to the condition.

The NHS would need to undergo a radical transformation after doctors recognise obesity as a clinical disease, requiring a national strategy, more funding and long-term medications for patients, medical experts told Sky News.

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"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," RCP president Andrew Goddard said. "Recognising it as a disease allows people to see they have a disease and reduces the stigma of having obesity."

Obesity is a chronic and progressive disease, according to University College of London professor Rachel Batterham. Classing obesity as a disease rather than a condition is the only way to treat the cause rather than consequences, she said.

"We know the biology now and there are over 100 DNA that have been identified showing how some people will develop obesity and others will be protected," Dr. Batterham said.

"We also know that once a person has developed obesity it's almost impossible to lose that weight and keep it off," she added "The body will do all it can to go back to the highest weight you've ever reached."

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David Buck, and expert from The Kings Fund think, did not believe the move was necessary and could risk over-medicalising what some people choose to do with their lives. "I do think this could have dangerous consequences," he said.

"Obesity isn't a disease, it's a condition, an outcome," he said. "I am slightly overweight, according to government statistics, but I don't see myself as suffering with a disease. It's because of the environment I live in, the choices I make. It's a condition not a disease, I don't buy that at all."

"The idea of obesity as a disease has got some advantages in terms of treatment and taking the issue more seriously," University of Bath health department chair Dr. Fiona Gillison said.

However, it can become "problematic" for overweight, not obese people and "medicalise what is actually a normal experience for most of us". Labelling people as obese could be "off-putting" to individuals, especially parents whose children are diagnosed with being overweight or obese.

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