Last updated on: 1/15/2010 | Author:

David B. Allison, PhD Biography

Professor of Biostatistics and Head of the Section on Statistical Genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham
to the question "Is Obesity a Disease?"

“The scientific approach would be well suited to answering the question ‘is obesity a disease?’ rather than ‘should we consider obesity a disease?,’ were the former question answerable.

However… the former question is ill posed and does not admit an answer. This is not because of a lack of agreement or understanding about obesity but rather because of a lack of a clear, specific, widely accepted, and scientifically applicable definition of ‘disease’ that allows one to objectively and empirically determine whether specific conditions are diseases.”

“Obesity as a Disease: A White Paper on Evidence and Arguments Commissioned by the Council of The Obesity Society,” Obesity journal, Apr. 24, 2008

[Editor’s Note: Prior to the Not Clearly Pro or Con statement above made on Apr. 24, 2008, Dr. Allison had a different statement about obesity as a disease.]

Obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI, kg/m2) or percentage body fat in excess of some cut-off value, though clearly a threat to health and longevity, lacks a universal concomitant group of symptoms or signs and the impairment of function which characterize disease according to traditional definitions. While it might nevertheless be possible to achieve a social consensus that it is a disease despite its failure to fit traditional models of disease, the merits of such a goal are questionable. Labeling obesity a disease may be expedient but it is not a necessary step in a campaign to combat obesity and it may be interpreted as self-serving advocacy without a sound scientific basis.”

“Is Obesity a Disease?,” International Journal of Obesity, Oct. 2001

Theoretical Expertise Ranking:
Individuals with MDs or PhDs, or equivalent advanced degrees in fields relevant to obesity and health. Also top-level government officials (such as foreign leaders, US presidents, Founding Fathers, Supreme Court Justices, members of legislative bodies, cabinet members, military leaders, etc.) with positions relevant to obesity and health.
Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Senior Scientist, Comprehensive Diabetes Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2008–present
  • Director, Nutrition & Obesity Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, June 2003-present
  • Senior Scientist, Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2003-present
  • Member, Board of Trustees, International Life Science Institute, North America, 2002-present
  • Professor of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Mar. 2001-present
  • Head, Section of Statistical Genetics (SSG), Department of Biostatistics, University of Alabama at Birmingham, 2001-present
  • American Psychological Association, 2008
  • Fellow, American Statistical Association, 2007
  • Associate Director of Clinical Nutrition Research Center, 2001-2003
  • Recipient, Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM), 2006
  • Consultant to Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) on the validity of weight loss product claims, 2002–2004
  • Recipient, Lilly Scientific Achievement Award, The Obesity Society (TOS), 2002
  • Recipient, Andre Mayer Award, International Association for the Study of Obesity, 2002
  • Associate Research Scientist, New York Obesity Research Center, Saint Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital Center, June 1994- Mar. 2001
  • PhD, Clinical and School Psychology, Hofstra University, 1990
  • MA, Clinical and School Psychology, Hofstra University, 1987
  • BA, Psychology, 1985
  • Post-doctoral fellowship, National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital Center, 1991-1994
  • Post-doctoral fellowship, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1990-1991