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AMA Recognizes Obesity as a Disease

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr Creative Commons)

The American Medical Association (AMA) has officially recognized obesity as a disease, a move that many doctors hope will result in better compensation for treating overweight patients.

“[The] American Medical Association recognizes obesity as a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention,” the AMA declared in a resolution adopted on Tuesday.

The New York Times reports that the decision was made at the AMA’s annual meeting, which was held in Chicago, over the objections of a committee which had studied the question of whether obesity is indeed a disease.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris said in a statement. Dr. Harris suggested that recognizing obesity as a disease will help in the battle against Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, both of which are linked to weight issues.

USA Today reports that if current trends continue, some 42 percent of Americans are projected to be obese by the year 2030. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 112,000 annual obesity-associated deaths nationwide, making obesity the second-leading cause of preventable death after tobacco smoking. Direct medical costs associated with obesity topped $152 billion in 2009, according to George Washington University.

The AMA’s move was met with great skepticism and outright rejection by some health experts.

The AMA’s own Council on Science and Public Health, for one, asserts that “obesity results from personal choices to overeat or live a sedentary lifestyle.”

“I believe telling people they have a disease allows people to throw up their arms and surrender and do nothing,” Texas AMA delegate Dr. Russ Kridel is quoted in MedPage Today.

One motive for recognizing obesity as a disease has to do with doctors’ compensation.

“More widespread recognition of obesity as a disease could result in greater investments by government and the private sector to develop and reimburse obesity treatments,” the AMA said in a statement. Also, the group says 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.”

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