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Taking on a Disease That Can't Be Ignored

June 22, 2023    Posted by: Eli Lilly and Company

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How much can change in the span of ten years? For people living with a chronic disease, a decade can feel like a long time.

When the American Medical Association (AMA) recognized obesity as a disease in June 2013, there was hope for people living with obesity.

Hope that they’d be diagnosed and cared for without stigma or shame. Hope that we’d start to see fewer people living with the disease. And hope that as a society, obesity treatment barriers would be removed.

So, how much progress have we actually made in the last 10 years since obesity was recognized as a disease by the AMA? There has been one major step in the right direction: we made notable advances in obesity science.

But some things remain the same in obesity.1 Our culture continues to perpetuate inaccurate ideas about obesity and managing excess weight.

Obesity is still often falsely portrayed as a lifestyle choice and a matter of willpower. The cultural content sometimes shared about obesity fuels stigma. And, those perspectives stand in the way of our progress. When obesity is portrayed like this, we lose sight of the fact that obesity is a serious chronic disease.

Many of these cultural misconceptions were highlighted in our recent OBSERVE study. The results show that participants, including patients, health care providers and employers still have misconceptions about the disease. Many think obesity is a self-modifiable lifestyle condition rather than a long-term disease, and they demonstrated a lack of understanding that impacts care.2-3

Obesity requires medical interventions and management in the same way we treat other chronic diseases. More people need to know obesity is often driven by forces outside of a person's control and the result of complex biological, genetic and environmental factors.4

And obesity has significant health implications.5 People living with the disease are at increased risk for developing more than 200 other medical conditions including hypertension, diabetes and cancer. It also contributes to a shorter life expectancy and lower quality of life, often driven by mental health issues like depression and anxiety.6-8

Getting obesity right matters. There’s still a lot of work to be done to change how obesity is understood, diagnosed and treated.

We need to remain focused on the whole person and the impact of this disease. People living with obesity deserve action, not just hope. The stakes are too high to let another 10 years go by without more change.


1. Joanna MacEwan, Hong Kan, Kevin Chiu, Jiat Ling Poon, Shraddha Shinde, Nadia N. Ahmad, Antiobesity Medication Use Among Overweight and Obese Adults in the United States: 2015–2018, Endocrine Practice.

2. Ard J, Kaplan LM, Dunn J, et al. Pharmacotherapy Use in Obesity Care: Divergence among Health Care Providers and Persons with Obesity. Poster presented at ObesityWeek® 2021; November 1-5, 2021.

3. Kaplan LM, Kumar RB, Kahan S, et al. Perspectives of anti-obesity medication use among persons with obesity and health care providers. Poster presented at ObesityWeek® 2021; November 1-5, 2021.

4. Causes of obesity. CDC. Updated March 21, 2022. Accessed February 28, 2023. 2. Mahmoud AM. Int J Mol Sci. 2022;23(3):1341. doi:10.3390/ijms23031341

5. Sarma S, Sockalingam S, Dash S. Obesity as a multisystem disease: trends in obesity rates and obesity-related complications. Diabetes Obes Metab. 2021;23(Suppl 1):3-16.

6. Waters H, Graf M. Milken Institute. Accessed November 17, 2022. American Obesity Crisis: The Health and Economic Costs (

7. Obesity Medicine Association. Accessed November 17, 2022.

8. Obesity Medicine Association. Accessed November 17, 2022.