It doesn’t help anyone to refer to obesity as a disease. Or at least that what a recent study shows.
Researchers at the University of Richmond and the University of Minnesota say referring to obesity as a disease only encourages people to eat more. As a result, obese people tend to eat more unhealthily.
“Considering that obesity is a crucial public health issue, a more nuanced understanding of the impact of an ‘obesity is a disease’ message has significant implications for patient-level and policy-level outcomes,” says psychologist Dr. Crystal Hoyt.
Dr. Hoyt and her colleagues recruited more than 700 participants to read either an article that described obesity as a disease; a standard public health message about weight; or an article specifically stating that obesity is not a disease. Then the participants were asked to answer a series of questions.
Participants who read the ‘obesity is a disease’ article placed less emphasis on dieting and tended to be less concerned about weight relative to the participants who read the other two articles. They also selected higher-calorie options when asked to pick a sandwich from a menu.
“Together, these findings suggest that the messages individuals hear about the nature of obesity have self-regulatory consequences,” says Dr. Hoyt.