Obesity should be renamed to avoid blaming people for their weight, researchers say.
Fat people should instead be referred to as patients with “chronic appetite disorders,” Irish researchers said.
They argued it must be considered a disease because experts have found hundreds of genes that increase risk.
Mutations in these genes lead to changes in the parts of the brain associated with appetite control.
dr Margaret Steele, of University College Cork, said doctors should classify patients as obese based on their susceptibility to overeating, not their weight.
She said: “Our environment throws us so much food, but some people seem to resist the temptation to stop eating when they’ve eaten enough to maintain their weight.”
“But it just doesn’t seem to work for other people — something’s happening in the brain, something in the hormone levels.
“It’s not a question of willpower, it’s not a question of decision-making.
“It’s at a much, much deeper level that we don’t really have full control over.
“They are constantly being sent signals to eat, so they may respond by overeating.
“These are the people who need medical help to prevent that, and these are the people with the disease.”
Scientists have debated whether obesity should be classified as a disease for decades.
The World Health Organization has called it a disease since 1936, but the NHS says it describes “a person who has excess body fat”.
The study by Dr. Presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Dublin, Steele examined how obesity should be classified from a philosophical point of view.
It said excess fat alone isn’t enough to be considered a disease – and height isn’t the only factor in considering whether someone is obese.
However, critics said that presenting obesity as a disease rather than a consequence of human behavior is unhelpful to patients.
dr Max Pemberton, a psychiatrist, said it “removes personal responsibility and leaves it to the doctors.”
He added, “Disease suggests there’s an inevitability when there doesn’t have to be.”
“There are genetic components, just as there are genes, that cause people to become addicted to smoking at a much higher rate than other people.
“But we wouldn’t classify smoking as a disease – it causes disease, but we understand it as a behavior about which we have choices.”
“Even those who are genetically predisposed to becoming fat are not slaves to their DNA.”