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

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