The American Medical Association – the largest organization of physicians in the United States – has formally recognized obesity as a disease, in a statement released earlier this week.
“The purpose of the policy is to advance obesity treatment and prevention,” wrote AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven in the statement. “It issues a call for a paradigm shift in the way the medical community tackles this complicated issue so that we can reduce the number of Americans suffering from the effects of heart disease, diabetes, disability and other potentially life-changing health conditions.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)l and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese. The CDC estimates that obesity also affects 17 percent of children, “triple the rate from just one generation ago.” An estimate from the nonprofit RTI International says that about 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030 if obesity trends continue. Factors that affect this upward movement include the increase of portion sizes over the last 20 years, increased exposure to advertising that encourages food consumption and promotes unhealthy foods and a large decrease in the access that school children have to physical education and activity.
Dr. Lou Aronne, an obesity expert, told CBS News that the AMA’s move will “have a tremendous impact on legislation in Washington and with insurance companies,” as insurance policies now “generally exclude obesity treatment.” While Medicare removed language saying obesity is not a disease from its coverage manual in 2004, Medicare Part D will still not pay for weight loss drugs.
Not everyone is in favor of this classification. Supporters say it would reduce the stigma of obesity that stems from the widespread attitude that it is simply the result of eating too much or exercising too little. Some doctors say that people do not have full control over their weight. Supporters also say it fits some medical criteria of a disease, such as impairing body function.
Those against this new classification contend that the disease designation takes responsibility off of people to alter their diet and activity levels. There’s also legitimate concern that some may be over diagnosed and put on expensive prescription drugs or given surgery they don’t need.
We know one of the best sustainable ways to fight obesity is to foster the habit of regular exercise in children from an early age.