Canadian Medical Association Declares Obesity A Chronic Disease

cma_logoLast week, just in time for World Obesity Day, the Canadian Medical Association joined the American Medical Association and the Canadian Obesity Network in declaring obesity a chronic disease.

As Dr. Cindy Forbes, the CMA President points out,

“It is important for health care providers to recognize obesity as a disease so preventive measures can be put in place and patients can receive the appropriate treatment. This move by the CMA speaks to the importance of addressing obesity and dealing with the stigma that is often associated with the condition.”

Dr. Adam Steacie who brought the issue forward said recognizing obesity as a disease may precipitate a shift in thinking of obesity as just a lifestyle choice to a medical disease with an obligation to treat it as other diseases.

I was happy to note that despite declaring obesity a disease, the CMA also addressed the concerns about the limitations of using body mass index (BMI) as the measure for diagnosing obesity.

Thus, the CMA notes that,

“BMI is a useful operational definition for obesity but should not be used as the defining characteristic of the disease.”


Obviously, as I have often pointed out, declaring obesity a disease should not distract from effective public policy, education and awareness to prevent obesity. If anything, declaring obesity a disease should stimulate even more attention to efforts at prevention but also, hopefully, help mobilize more funding and resources to its research and treatment.

In light of this declaration, it is no longer tolerable that health insurance companies and benefit plans continue to deny coverage of treatments or obesity with the simplistic argument that obesity is simply a matter of “lifestyle choice”.

As regular readers are well aware, I am the first to agree that health cannot be measured by simply stepping on a scale and that there are indeed some individuals, who despite meeting the BMI criteria for obesity, may have bear little or no health risks. These folks will perhaps rightly object to being “mislabeled” as having a disease.

However, for the vast majority of people with excess weight, who do in fact face considerable health risks from excess weight, this declaration will hopefully be a step forward to getting them the help and support they need.

So here is what I hope this resolution will help achieve

  • improved training in obesity at medical schools and residency programs,
  • reduced stigma of obesity by the public and physicians,
  • improved insurance coverage for obesity-specific treatment
  • increased research funding for both prevention and treatment strategies

Edmonton, AB