Article Text

Download PDFPDF
54 Overdiagnosis in overweight
  1. Lene Meyer,
  2. Emma Grundtvig Gram,
  3. John Brandt Brodersen,
  4. Rasmus Køster-Rasmussen
  1. Section of General Practice, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark


Having a high body weight is considered a risk factor for a number of known diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, etc. In 2013, The American Medical Association recognized BMI higher than 30 as a disease state requiring treatment and prevention.

Most research on obesity and weight loss builds on the assumption that people are able to lose weight if only given the right means. However, there is no strong evidence that diagnosis and following treatment result in clinical meaningful long-term weight loss nor improves health. Thus, there is good evidence that weight loss interventions does not reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease. Diagnosing people with a BMI higher than 30 as obese without any beneficial effect on health is a case of overdiagnosis. In fact, experimental evidence suggests that self-esteem is reduced and self-stigma increase after a diagnosis of overweight irrespective of the actual BMI. Thus, diagnosing overweight may well be harmful in itself.

People diagnosed with obesity are increasingly treated with invasive procedures, diets, or weight loss drugs. These interventions aim for weight loss to improve overall health and risk of early death. The potential consequences of the prevailing weight loss paradigm in medicine include stigmatization from society including health professionals, internalized body stigma, anxiety, depression, self-harm, disturbed eating, and suicide.

In this seminar, we will walk you through the history and medicalization of a BMI higher than 30. Further, we will present evidence on the benefits and harm of treating obesity. This will be followed by a group discussion of the evidence, the introduction of new weight-loss drugs, and weight-neutral health alternatives.

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.