American Medical Association declares obesity a disease

As of Wednesday, June 19th, the American Medical Association, the largest association of physicians and medical students in the United States, has officially recognized obesity as a disease.

A New York Times article on the subject says:

“To some extent, the question of whether obesity is a disease or not is a semantic one, since there is not even a universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease. And the A.M.A.’s decision has no legal authority.

Still, some doctors and obesity advocates said that having the nation’s largest physician group make the declaration would focus more attention on obesity. And it could help improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling.”

Some believe this move could induce physicians to pay more attention to the condition, and spur insurers to pay for treatments — at least one doctor saying this designation will help in the fight against heart disease and other diseases linked to obesity.

The AMA made its decision on Wednesday during its annual meeting in Chicago — ruling against a recommendation made by a committee that had studied the matter, according to the New York Times.

The New York Times article says: “The council said that obesity should not be considered a disease mainly because the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index, is simplistic and flawed.” — Something I have heard debate on — especially among parents of school children who say BMI requirements classifying their children as obese are inaccurate and damaging to the child’s emotional well-being. As the article states, the argument is: “Some people with a B.M.I. above the level that usually defines obesity are perfectly healthy while others below it can have dangerous levels of body fat and metabolic problems associated with obesity.”

Additionally, the council said if obesity was declared a disease, it would “reduce the stigma of obesity that stems from the widespread perception 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.”

As a result, some doctors (and obese patients) believe they need drugs, weight loss surgery, and insurance benefits to combat their obesity.

The article says there are two obesity drugs on the market, the IRS has said obesity treatments can qualify for tax deductions, and Medicare has removed language regarding obesity not being considered a disease, though Medicare Part D does not pay for weight loss drugs.

The article says those arguing against declaring obesity a disease say that there are no specific symptoms associated with it and that it is more a risk factor for other conditions than a disease in its own right.

They also say that “medicalizing” obesity by declaring it a disease would define one-third of Americans as being ill and could lead to more reliance on costly drugs and surgery rather than lifestyle changes.

Supporters of the disease classification say it fits some medical criteria of a disease, such as impairing body function.

obesity map


In short, I disagree with the idea of obesity being classified as a disease.

Instead, I think of obesity as a lifestyle condition, brought on by human choices, society, our food industry and our environment.

Too many people stuff themselves with processed food (or worse, fast food!) and don’t take the time anymore to think about what they are putting into their mouths.

We are all busy, and it is easy to let crafting and consuming healthy meals drop to the bottom of the “To Do List.”

Many of us have underlying conditions (like thyroid disorders, diabetes, etc.) that have been proven to improve with a healthy diet — yet instead, we pump ourselves full of drugs, or undergo life-threatening weight loss surgery — many of which have health consequences in and of themselves.

I don’t think medical intervention is the answer in the quest to fight the obesity epidemic.

Instead, I think we should focus on getting those that are obese to SOMEHOW commit to eating a healthy diet — a task easier said than done!

healthyInstead of turning to the doctor, I think a good way to deal with obesity would be to TEACH people a) the value of eating healthy, b) what processed foods are doing to their bodies, c) how to COOK healthy food, d) how to GROW healthy food, and e) the importance of making healthy eating, cooking, grocery shopping and meal planning a priority.

If we can arm folks with the right information and knowledge, we are putting power into their hands.

Then, those people can take what they have learned and make a choice as to whether they will implement their new “Healthy Eating Program” into their daily lives.

Yes, it would cost money to implement a program like this — especially on the federal level as a sort of nationwide, government program, but I feel if we get the obesity problem solved, or at least improve upon it, we will in return spend less on things like cancer research.

As we all get healthy and start caring about ourselves and taking care of ourselves, with the help of the government promoting healthy eating and the big food companies producing healthy, whole food products — maybe we could even someday eliminate the pharmaceutical industry!

Food can heal, if we choose the right food that will nourish and respect our bodies.

Don’t believe me? Give healthy eating (better yet, the PALEO DIET) a try. You’ve got nothing to lose (except the weight!)

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