The American Medical Association recently classified obesity as a disease, triggering a debate about whether similar organisations in other parts of the world should take a similar approach. The AMA said that their decision was intended to “advance obesity treatment and prevention” and change the way that people think about the condition.

While the intentions of the AMA are good, they are using an unusual definition for disease. The dictionary classifies a disease as “a disorder of structure or function” which has an adverse affect on the person that suffers from it and defines it as “a quality, habit, or disposition” that adversely affects a person or group. Under those definitions, obesity could be thought of as a disease caused by the habit of over-eating, but that is not what people think of when they hear the word disease in a medical context.

Diseases, in the medical context, are usually thought of as things which afflict you and require medical intervention to fix. Asthma, measles, migraines and swine flu are diseases. Being obese is not something that is necessarily beyond your control. Yes, it causes discomfort and can have other comorbid conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea or high blood pressure, but those health risks alone do not make someone obese automatically “diseased”.

Having long hair can be uncomfortable, cause rashes if you do not wash it properly and even hold pollen, making you more uncomfortable if you have allergies, but being long-haired is not a disease. If your hair makes you uncomfortable, you can cut it off. If your extra weight gives you sleep apnea, you can lose it.

Diets do work 

The rules of thermodynamics apply to everyone and if you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight. Yes, some people have fat storage issues caused by disease or medication and those people do need guidance from a doctor to find a safe nutrition plan that works for them, but most people can lose weight on a sensible diet.

The reason most people fail to lose weight is nothing to do with their metabolism being slow, rather it is to do with them underestimating what they eat. Processed, calorie dense foods with minimal nutritional value trigger cravings and leave people feeling unsatisfied. Following something like the paleo diet helps you regulate your calorie intake.

The paleo diet teaches people to avoid processed foods, high sugar foods and simple carbohydrates. Instead, you eat meat, nuts, fish, fresh vegetables and the occasional piece of fruit. These foods fill you up, help to regulate your insulin levels and allow your gut to heal after years of consuming gluten and lectin rich grains.

After a few weeks on the paleo diet most people feel energised and no longer have cravings for junk food. Instead of treating obesity like a disease, with all of the “it’s out of my hands” connotations that includes, why not simply embark on a public health education program that tells the no-nonsense truth. You can control your weight if you eat smart.