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Obesity is a Disease? American Medical Association Believes So

Jun 18, 2013 08:33 PM EDT
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Obesity is now officially recognized as a disease by the American Medical Association (AMA), the group announced Tuesday at their annual meeting in Chicago.

Although that move wouldn't carry any legal implications, but medical authorities believe it could improve private and public health insurance programs. It may help the fight against   Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which are linked to obesity, the AMA says.

"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," Dr. Patrice Harris, a member of the association's board, said in a statement.

The vote was not without opposition, however, as doctors voiced concerns some patients considered obese by various measures such as BMI may "otherwise be fit and healthy" and not need aggressive treatment.

"BMI is a very imperfect measure," said Dr. Robert Gilchick, an AMA delegate who is also director of Child and Adolescent Health Program and Policy with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and chaired the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health, which issued a 14-page report for the delegates to consider.  

According to the journal Public Health Reports, only eight states' Medicaid programs cover all three categories, and 20 states' programs explicitly exclude nutritional consultation for obesity. The most commonly covered category is bariatric surgery, which is far more expensive and invasive than preventative nutritional counseling or drug therapy - which is the least-covered category - would be. 

The council, which wrote the report and heard debate on the obesity-as-disease recommendation, opposed the resolution and urged the AMA against endorsing obesity as a disease.

Yet opponents to classifying obesity as a disease state say "obesity results from personal choices to overeat or live a sedentary lifestyle." Therefore, opponents say obesity is not an illness, the council on science and public health said.

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