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Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that are characterized by abnormal, irregular eating habits, and an extreme concern with one’s body weight or shape. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) includes several different types of eating disorders, all of which are categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. While obesity and eating disorders are linked, it would be inaccurate to claim they are one and the same. One publication asserts that “obesity is a heterogeneous condition with a complex and incompletely understood etiology, and thus cannot be considered a mental disorder per se.” Hence, most medical experts do not label obesity as an eating disorder, nor is it included in the DSM-5. 

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is essentially an abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to one’s health. Harvard Health explains that the healthy range for body mass index (BMI) is between 18.5 and 24.9, overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. Obesity is associated with serious health problems (e.g., diabetes, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, colorectal cancer, etc.). Although it is not recognized as an eating disorder, obesity accounts for far more morbidity and mortality than all the eating disorders combined because it is much more prevalent. More than 30% of Americans are obese, compared with the 4% of Americans who meet criteria for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge-eating disorder, according to the American Psychological Association. This issue continues to rise and has reached epidemic proportions, as over the past five years, the obesity rate among adults aged 18 and older in the United States has increased an annualized 1.8%, amounting to 33 people per 100 individuals. An estimated 300,000 deaths per year are due to the obesity epidemic, which makes it the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. 

There are many factors that can play a role in the development of obesity, such as genetic influences, caloric intake, exercise, stress and more. Obesity is a common comorbidity (i.e., the simultaneous presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions) of certain eating disorders. Those who struggle with obesity, for example, may also struggle with anorexia as a method of controlling one’s food intake in the hopes of weight loss. Research indicates that “there is a significant co-occurrence of eating disorders, particularly binge eating disorder, in individuals with higher BMI.” Obesity and eating disorders are each associated with severe physical and mental health consequences, and individuals with obesity as well as comorbid eating disorders are at greater risk of these than individuals with either condition alone. Both obesity and eating disorders require medical intervention.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.