Obesity as a Socially Defined Disease: Philosophical Considerations and Implications for Policy and Care

Health Care Analysis 24 (1):86-100 (2016)
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Abstract

Obesity has generated significant worries amongst health policy makers and has obtained increased attention in health care. Obesity is unanimously defined as a disease in the health care and health policy literature. However, there are pragmatic and not principled reasons for this. This warrants an analysis of obesity according to standard conceptions of disease in the literature of philosophy of medicine. According to theories and definitions of disease referring to internal processes, obesity is not a disease. Obesity undoubtedly can result in disease, making it a risk factor for disease, but not a disease per se. According to several social conceptions of disease, however, obesity clearly is a disease. Obesity can conflict with aesthetic, moral, or other social norms. Making obesity a “social disease” may very well be a wise health policy, assuring and improving population health, especially if we address the social determinants of obesity, such as the food supply and marketing system. However, applying biomedical solutions to social problems may also have severe side effects. It can result in medicalization and enhance stigmatization and discrimination of persons based on appearance or behavior. Approaching social problems with biomedical means may also serve commercial and professionals’ interests more than the health and welfare of individuals; it may make quick fix medical solutions halt more sustainable structural solutions. This urges health insurers, health care professionals, and health policy makers to be cautious. Especially if we want to help and respect persons that we classify and treat as obese.

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Citations of this work

The Line-Drawing Problem in Disease Definition.Wendy A. Rogers & Mary Jean Walker - 2017 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 42 (4):405-423.
Medicalization and Overdiagnosis: Different but Alike.Bjørn Hofmann - 2016 - Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 19 (2):253-264.
A New Approach to Defining Disease.Mary Jean Walker & Wendy A. Rogers - 2018 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 43 (4):402-420.
Managing the Moral Expansion of Medicine.Bjørn Hofmann - 2022 - BMC Medical Ethics 23 (1):1-13.

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References found in this work

The Social Construction of What?Ian Hacking - 1999 - Harvard University Press.
What a Theory of Mental Health Should Be.Christopher Boorse - 1976 - Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour 6 (1):61–84.
Moral Theory and Medical Practice. [REVIEW]Grant Gillett - 1991 - Philosophical Quarterly 41 (164):379.

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