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The Medicalization of Obesity

Medicalization refers to the process by which some behaviors, conditions, or human problems are treated and labeled as medical issues. Recent studies reveal a dramatic increase in treating ailments traditionally managed with “watchful waiting” or nonpharmacologic methods. Menopause, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), alcoholism, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), infertility, anorexia, erectile dysfunction (ED), and sleep difficulties are a few examples of medicalized diseases. For instance, morbid obesity has been acknowledged as a medical condition that requires surgical interventions. However, medicalization may blur the distinction between “ordinary” and “morbid” fat, increasing the proportion of people who are treated as ill (Ciciurkaite et al., 2019). Managing obesity as a disease may affect those affected, society, and the healthcare system. In this paper, we will discuss the medicalization of obesity and the involved participants in the process.

Obesity is a chronic, frequently progressive illness. Excess body fat, the hallmark of obesity, poses several major health hazards, including cardiac problems, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and other dangerous illnesses (Charrow & Yerramilli, 2018). Obesity has gained recognition as a medical problem in recent years. The medicalization of obesity has become a widespread trend in which health care providers acknowledge obesity as an illness and health issue in and of itself. Numerous medical specialists believe that the American Medical Association’s (AMA) official declaration of obesity as a condition in May 2013 was the most significant medicalization in American medicine (Van Dijk et al., 2020). To reduce the stigma associated with being “fat,” acknowledge that obesity is a severe condition that requires more than simply willpower, and acknowledge its seriousness; obesity was medicalized for several reasons. As a result of the medicalization of obesity, doctors now have to treat and identify the condition.

This declaration was made after a sharp increase in obesity since the turn of the 20th century. Obesity is now the fifth largest cause of death globally, having more than doubled by 1980. One in three Americans were obese in 2013 when the AMA decided to medicalize the condition; over 1.9 billion people 18 years and above were overweight in 2014, and over six hundred million of these persons were fat (Van Dijk et al., 2020). These figures illustrate the global obesity pandemic and offer justification for the medicalization of obesity. Numerous new treatments for obesity have evolved since the disease was medicalized. There are many over-the-counter medicines that can be used to treat obesity (Kaczmarek, 2022). Medication can be used to improve metabolism and suppress appetite. Even though these medications have a history of producing outcomes, patients who stop using them typically gain weight.

Surgery is frequently used to treat severe obesity in those who are unable to lose weight through other techniques. The procedure that obese individuals most frequently undergo is bariatric surgery, which involves sealing off the stomach to restrict the amount of food consumed. When it comes to helping the morbidly obese lose weight over the long term, bariatric surgery, commonly referred to as weight loss surgery, is viewed as being superior to behavioral or pharmaceutical therapies (Van Dijk et al., 2020). Modification of behavior and diet was another method proposed to manage obesity. Patients were also advised to engage in exercises to enhance weight loss.

In conclusion, the medicalization of obesity brought about the adoption of better methods of dealing with obese people. The disease was medicalized by the American Medical Association in May 2013 to help reduce emotional stigma among people with excess weight. The reasons for medicalization also involved the need to curb the growing numbers of obese patients who were at risk of death. The proposed treatments include over counter medications, bariatric surgery, exercise, and behavior or dietary modifications in life.


Charrow, A., & Yerramilli, D. (2018). Obesity as a disease: Metaphysical and ethical considerations. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health7, 74-81.

Ciciurkaite, G., Moloney, M. E., & Brown, R. L. (2019). The incomplete medicalization of obesity: Physician office visits, diagnoses, and treatments, 1996-2014. Public Health Reports134(2), 141-149.

Kaczmarek, E. (2022). Promoting diseases to promote drugs: the role of the pharmaceutical industry in fostering good and bad medicalization. British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology88(1), 34-39.

Van Dijk, W., Meinders, M. J., Tanke, M. A., Westert, G. P., & Jeurissen, P. P. (2020). Medicalization defined in empirical contexts–a scoping review. International journal of health policy and management9(8), 327.


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