Obesity is Not a Disease
About twenty years ago I worked at a small hedge fund. One of my coworkers was rail thin and constantly eating. No three meals a day for this guy. He was eating something — yogurt, a banana, nuts, a protein bar — at least every two hours throughout the day, every day. When I made light one day of his apparent failure to put on weight amidst all his gluttonous behavior, he said he ate all the time because his metabolism was off the charts. He said he had to be eating all the time in order to not lose weight. Fascinating. But it would be odd to say that my coworker had a disease that “forced” him to eat more than most people. He had a condition. Maybe it could be considered a disorder. But he certainly didn’t have a disease — and the same goes for people who have slow metabolisms. If you’re born with a slow metabolism, you learn (or you ought to learn) how to adjust one’s intake of food in order to combat or offset weight gain.
Which brings me to the three gentlemen you see above. From left to right they are Lou Costello, Oliver Hardy, and Jerome (“Curly”) Howard. For those of you of a certain young age, all three were members of comedy teams that thrived primarily during the 1930s and ’40s. That’s a detail you can investigate on your own. My question for right now is this: Is it accurate to say these three men had a disease that brought on their weight gain? Were these men obese? Maybe — or not quite yet, based on when these photographs were taken (each at their peak of fame), as the three of them, particularly Oliver Hardy, would become heavier as the years went on. In two words: They overate — for years and decades. That’s six words. Sorry.
However, we are now told, by The New York Times and The Washington Post, that obesity is a disease that one “has.” Huh. I’ve always thought that a disease is something that happens to you. A person has measles or chicken pox or influenza or Covid-19. Is obesity something you can “catch” in the same way you can catch a cold? I fail to see how obesity is something a person can “have” (or “catch”) because obesity isn’t a germ or pathogen that attacks the body. It’s not even a malfunction of the body’s hardware (think of gene-based or gene-inherited diseases in this regard: cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, or Huntington’s disease, to name…