June 19, 2013
AMA Votes To Recognize Obesity As A Disease
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In a decision that could have massive health and economic implications, the American Medical Association has decided to recognize obesity as a disease, opening the door to a new approach on handling the condition.
At the AMA´s annual meeting in Chicago, the association noted that obesity rates have“¯"doubled among adults in the last twenty years and tripled among children in a single generation.”
The AMA joins both the World Health Organization and the Food and Drug Administration in recognizing obesity as a disease.
"As things stand now, primary care physicians tend to look at obesity as a behavior problem," Dr. Rexford Ahima, from the“¯University of Pennsylvania's Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, told the LA Times. "This will force primary care physicians to address it, even if we don't have a cure for it."
Previous AMA documentation has called obesity an "urgent chronic condition," a "major health concern" and a "complex disorder." Besides being of semantic significance, the AMA decision now elevates the status of obesity above that of a mere ℠risk factor´ for heart disease, diabetes and other conditions.
"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately 1 in 3 Americans," said Dr. Patrice Harris, an AMA board member.
The decision, which was reached through a vote, is expected to increase pressure on health insurance companies to reimburse physicians for counseling patients whose“¯body mass index (BMI) exceeds 30. It is also expected to increase doctors´ role in patient fitness and diet programs.
The more active role of the medical community is expected to benefit more than half of obese patients who say they have never been told by a healthcare professional that they need to lose weight, according to previous surveys. Many observers have speculated that doctors' reluctance to offend their patients has prevented many lengthy discussions that could benefit patients and for which doctors could now get paid.
In debating the vote, the AMA's Council on Science and Public Health said that a more extensive recognition of obesity as a disease "could result in greater investments by government and the private sector to develop and reimburse obesity treatments."
"The greater urgency a disease label confers" could also boost preventative programs such as physical education or diet initiatives, the council suggested, adding that "employers may be required to cover obesity treatments for their employees and may be less able to discriminate on the basis of body weight."
Despite the potential benefits of the designation, the health council also warned in a memo that calling obesity a ℠disease´ had the potential to encourage the use of costly drugs and surgical treatments instead of natural preventative measures like healthy diets and regular exercise.
Some experts say the new designation could also increase the stigma already being felt by those who are obese or overweight.
Dr. Daniel H. Bessesen, an obesity expert at the University of Colorado, told the Times that the designation is "a double-edged sword," potentially reflecting "a growing awareness that obesity is not someone's fault,” but added that "the term disease is stigmatizing, and people who are obese don't need more stigmatizing."