The American Medical Association voted in favor of recognizing obesity as a disease, despite a recommendation from a committee well versed on obesity not to do so. The AMA hopes the measure will make physicians more proactive and encourage insurance companies to cover treatment.
The Food and Drug Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the World Health Organization already recognize obesity as a disease. The IRS lets individuals deduct obesity treatments.
At the AMA’s annual meeting in Chicago, it was noted that obesity in the United States has “doubled among adults in the last 20 years and tripled among children in a single generation.”
“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, a member of the AMA’s board, in a statement.
Recognition of obesity as an illness should focus more attention on it. Advocates hope it will lead to more reimbursement for obesity surgery, drugs and counseling.
“I think you will probably see from this physicians taking obesity more seriously, counseling their patients about it,” said Morgan Downey, an advocate for obese people and publisher of the online Downey Obesity Report, to the New York Times. “Companies marketing the products will be able to take this to physicians and point to it and say, ‘Look, the mothership has now recognized obesity as a disease.’”
Advocates also hope that calling obesity a disease will reduce stigma and change the perception that people have full control of their weight. A problem with that argument is that mental illness continues to be wholly unable to shake the reputation of being something under a person’s control.
The argument against recognizing obesity as a disease is that the minute it is designated as such approximately one-third of all Americans are officially “ill.” Those against the medicalization of obesity fear it will make patients rely more heavily on drugs and surgery than cheap, non-life-threatening lifestyle changes.
Delegates of the AMA rejected the conclusion of the committee and voted in favor of recognizing obesity as a disease, calling it a “multimetabolic and hormonal disease state” leading to Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The resolution was backed by the American College of Cardiology, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and other organizations.
“The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggesting that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes,” the resolution said.