AMA Recognizes Obesity as a Disease - Part 1

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  • AMA Recognizes Obesity as a Disease 


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    No sooner than the American Medical Association (AMA) qualified obesity as a disease, did some experts step forward and say, “Not so fast, actually obesity may be more than just one disease.”

    Whichever the case, the news here is that obesity now will be recognized as a disease. Whether that news is good or bad depends on which side of the fence you are standing. Those who are obese are probably feeling a bit more upbeat right about now than are employers and insurance companies.

    Although the AMA has no legal authority, it is the nation’s largest physician group. If they maintain that obesity is a disease then that about does it — although the American Council on Science and Health did not support the AMA conclusions. 

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    The council objected because body mass index (BMI) is the measure used to define obesity, and the council maintains that BMI is too simplistic and flawed. Some people with a BMI above the level used to define obesity are quite healthy, while others have problems clearly associated with obesity.

    Those on the council would prefer that obesity be labeled a “condition” rather than a disease. Those who are opposed to the disease classification argue that obesity has no specific symptoms connected with it, but rather it is more a risk factor for other illnesses.

    They also argue that recognizing obesity as a disease based on BMI criteria will now recognize one-third of the population as ill, although many are, in fact, healthy. Another contention is that people will now come to rely on drug-therapy and surgery rather than lifestyle changes. 

    Recommendations made by the council were overridden by the AMA.

    Defining Obesity as a Disease

    While the criteria for defining obesity as a disease may not be as concrete as some would like, the fact is the AMA is not the first to recognize obesity as something other than a condition or a disorder.

    The Internal Revenue Service allows tax deductions for obesity treatments and Medicare has altered the language of its coverage which used to state that obesity was not a disease.

    Some who support the disease concept point out that obesity does meet some medical criteria for disease classification, such as impaired body function. The final result is the conclusion reached by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Cardiology that obesity is a “multi-metabolic and hormonal disease state.”      

    It also has been pointed out that denying obesity disease status based on the contention that it is the result of lifestyle would be equivalent to stating that lung cancer is not a disease because it can result from an individual’s choice to smoke cigarettes.   

    It is hoped that qualifying obesity as a disease will help to dissolve the stigma that obesity is little more than the result of overeating and too little exercise, despite the contention of many medical professionals that some people do not have full control over their weight.


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    Continue to part 2 of this article.

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Published On: August 23, 2013