Is Obesity A Choice Or A Disease?

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The issue of obesity or being overweight has multiple layers to it. Besides the debate of obesity being a choice or disease, there’s also the issue of “shaming”. Let’s come back to that in a minute. Did you know that Malaysia is the “fattest” country in Asia? In fact, 64% of male and 65% of female population are either overweight or obese. But it’s not just Malaysia that has a weight problem. According the the World Health Organisation (WHO), 1 in 5 adults will be obese by 2025. Weight issues aside, obesity is a big health concern, and there’s a need to rectify this issue. Which brings us to the question: is obesity a choice or a disease?

What Is Obesity?

According to the WHO, “overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health”. Most often, this is measured by calculating Body Mass Index (BMI). The formula for calculating BMI is kg/m2, with kg being your weight in kilograms, and m2 being your height in metres squared. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 signifies overweight, while a BMI of 30 and above signifies obesity.

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“Obesity Is A Disease”

Many health organisations worldwide have categorised obesity as a disease, though in the past it was always a “choice”. There are a few things that are uncontrollable factors, including genetics, environmental factors and certain medical conditions that can contribute to obesity.


First of all, a parent or both parents who are overweight or obese are more likely to have overweight kids as well. These are genes passed down from parent to child. Prenatal factors such as excessive weight gain during pregnancy may also affect the weight of the child when he or she is born.

Environmental Factors

In certain areas, it could still be a problem to get healthy nutritious food, or even to learn about what “nutrition” is. When food availability is a problem in itself, you don’t have to luxury of choosing what to eat. Those who are stricken with poverty are more likely to consume high-calorie and low-nutrition food, therefore contributing to weight gain. However, it’s not just the poor that has a problem. The rich being rich could afford any food they want, and make the wrong food choices or overeat.

Medical Conditions

To combat and control certain medical conditions, one may have to take different kinds of medication. Weight gain is actually a common side effect of many medications, including diabetes drugs and antidepressants. Hypothyroidism can also contribute to weight gain.


Hunger is controlled by parts of the brain that are also responsible for cravings and rewards, and sometimes these hormones may not function properly in some people. Therefore, the brain is always thinking that your body is hungry when it’s actually not, causing one to overeat. Certain brain chemical imbalances can also cause the brain to not recognise that the body is full, and the brain will keep sending out hunger signals.

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“Obesity Is A Choice”

While all of the above is true, the phrase usually used for most of those conditions is “predisposed to weight gain”. In other words, you may gain weight more easily, but that doesn’t mean you will definitely be obese. On the other end of the debate, let’s talk about why some people think obesity is a choice.

Poor Diet

Let’s face it. Everyone loves tasty food. And most tasty food unfortunately falls into the unhealthy categories. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know the latest bubble tea craze that has swept through almost all of 2019 in Malaysia (and in other parts of the world). How many of those shops have seemingly popped out of nowhere? While it’s nice to treat yourself once in a while, some people make it their daily drink. As bubble tea is chock full of sugar, habitual drinkers are putting themselves at risk for not only obesity, but diabetes as well. This is just an example, but there are so many other types of poor food choices out there. The best is to eat everything in moderation and don’t overeat at meals.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Think about it. How much do you move a day? Especially if you’re holding a corporate job which has you sitting down basically the whole day, chances are you’re not moving enough. If you make it a point to hit the gym or go for a walk or swim once or twice a week, that’s something, and great job! However, many of us fail to recognise the importance of an active lifestyle, citing fatigue at the start or end of the day. Our bodies were actually made to move, and exercising and keeping active is one way to keep our bodies functioning optimally. Without physical movement, your body has no way of burning calories and instead will deteriorate.

Body Image

You’ve probably heard of body shaming before, where someone is shamed for how their body is like, whether thin or skinny. Of course, it has long been considered that skinny is beautiful, and body shaming started off with fat shaming. Now, those who are “fat” are clapping back and embracing their bodies, all in the name of not conforming to conventional beauty standards or the need to be thin. While that is indeed a good thing, there’s a fine line between being confident in your own skin and being overweight and unhealthy.

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If you ask me, I would say that obesity is dependent on each individual. It could be a choice or a disease for different people, or even a combination of both based on their pre-existing conditions and lifestyle habits. But we’d like to know what you think. Is obesity a disease or a choice? Let us know in the comments below!