Frequently asked questions about obesity

Do you have some questions about obesity and weight? Here are some typical questions and answers.

Is obesity a disease?

This is a very common question and you will get different answers depending on who you ask. In 2013, the American Medical Association1 voted to categorise obesity as a disease. Since then, the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS)2 and many other organisations around the world have classified obesity as a disease.

However, the Australian Government and the Australian Medical Association have shied away from labelling obesity as a disease, telling the ABC’s Fact Check website that there would be costs involved if it was officially a disease3.

We believe obesity is a disease. By labelling it as a disease it helps reduce the stigma and discrimination that many experience. The debate continues.

Read more about the causes of obesity

How does obesity affect the community?

2 in 3 adults are overweight or obese4 which puts an enormous burden on our society. OECD’s The Heavy Burden of Obesity report5:

Key fact 01

Australians live on average 2.7 years less because of being overweight.

Key fact 02

Overweight reduces Australia’s GDP by 3.1%.

Key fact 03

Overweight accounts for 8.6% of Australia’s health expenditure.

Key fact 04

To cover these costs, each Australian pays an additional AUD 678 in taxes per year.

Key fact 05

Our labour market outputs are lowered by the equivalent of 371 thousand full-time workers per year.

Read more about the negative impacts of obesity

How does obesity affect mental health?

Many people with obesity also struggle with mental health. Stigma and discrimination in many areas of your life can lead you to using food as a coping mechanism, which can increase your weight.

Studies have found that you’re more likely to be depressed if you have obesity. People with depression are more likely to become obese6.

Read more about the link between anxiety, depression and obesity

How does obesity affect physical health?

People with obesity are at higher risk of developing several health conditions, including some types of cancer, stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnoea7.

These conditions can reduce your enjoyment of life and, even sometimes, lead to death.

Read more about comorbidities linked to obesity

How do you know if you have obesity?

A doctor will usually check your weight and height and then determine your Body Mass Index (BMI). It’s a very general measure that helps put you into a weight category: underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. 8 9 10  

Calculate your BMI

What are some treatments for obesity?

Losing weight has many benefits including reducing your risk of developing disease like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. You may have tried losing weight in the past but that doesn’t mean you can’t lose weight in the future.

Successful treatment options for obesity including lifestyle changes, prescription medication and bariatric surgery11.

Obesity health risks from COVID-19
1 Kyle TK, Dhurandhar EJ, Allison DB. Regarding Obesity as a Disease: Evolving Policies and Their Implications. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2016;45(3):511-520. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2016.04.004

2 Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) Obesity as a chronic relapsing disease process Available at Accessed December 2021

3 Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Is Obesity a disease? – Fact Check special. Available at Accessed December 2021

4 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Overweight and obesity: an interactive insight., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 15 December 2021

5 OECD The heavy burden of obesity report 2019 Available from Accessed December 2021.

6 National Health and Medical Research Council (2013). Clinical practice guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children in Australia. Available at, accessed September 2019.

7 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015: Interactive data on risk factor burden., AIHW, Australian Government, accessed December 2021

8 RACGP. Obesity prevention and management position statement 2019. Available at, accessed December 2021.

9 RACP Action to prevent obesity and reduce its impact across the life course – Evidence Review. 2018. Available at Accessed December 2019

10 Sumithran P and Proietto J. The defence of body weight: a physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss. Clin Sci 2103; 124: 231–41.

11 ANZOS and ADS. 2020. The Australian Obesity Management Algorithm. Available at: https://static1.squaresp Accessed December 2021.