Is Obesity a Disease?
Save yourselves from this crooked generation. Acts 2:40
Is this a behavioral problem of poor self-control or is this a disease? In my circles, this question is usually addressing drug addiction, but the other day, it came up regarding obesity. By any modern medical definition, obesity is an abnormal condition that causes significant harm to those who suffer from it. Its contribution to heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes are undeniable. The problem is, as soon as I call it a disease, what another person hears, is that there is that the one suffering from obesity bears no responsibility. We often consider the two options – disease or bad behavior – to be polar opposites. The two are mutually exclusive and it must be one or the other, right?
Frequently, we reject the disease model, because we see it as alleviating personal responsibility. Or, we go to the opposite extreme, embracing the disease model, insisting that the victim of a disease is helpless to help himself.
As Christians, we’re prone to similarly misleading extreme views regarding our condition before God. In his Pentecostal sermon, Peter explained that God calls us to him. There it is. God does it, we say. Man cannot save himself and God must do it all. Man has no part to play.
In the very next sentence however, Peter exhorts his audience to save themselves. Peter wasn’t suggesting that we’re truly on our own. Only God can save us. Peter, however, did insist that we bear some responsibility to respond appropriately to God. God has called us. Now it is up to us to follow him, abandoning the old life.
So, is obesity a disease or a behavioral problem? Yes, of course. It’s a disease of behavior that leads to other diseases, like type 2 diabetes. The one suffering isn’t alleviated of his responsibility to seek treatment because of the disease label. He is in fact the only one responsible. Similarly, the addict may not be responsible for his predisposed appetite to pain medications, and he may not be responsible for the surgery that exposed him to them in the first place, but once he has a problem, he is absolutely responsible to seek the remedy for that problem.
Likewise, we don’t save ourselves. Only God can save us. As he has called us though, we must respond the only appropriate way, by radically abandoning the old life to follow him.