American Medical Association officially recognizes obesity as a disease

June 19, 2013 2:46:59 PM PDT
The AMA's categorization of obesity as a disease could affect the way doctors now work with and treat overweight patients. It could also help efforts to have weight loss interventions paid for by insurers, and it may finally get the public focused on the problem.

Antonnette Marsh has struggled with her weight since she was a teenager. She has been trying for years to slim down, but dieting -- even medication -- is not working. Marsh is seeking surgical help at the nutrition and wellness center at the University of Illinois Hospital.

To hear that that the American Medical Association (AMA) has declared obesity a disease brings her a sense of comfort although she admits it is not easy to say she has a disease.

"If you really look at it, it's there is something that is happening with a lot of people now it's something that needs to be looked at," said weight loss patient Antonnette Marsh.

About a third of adults in this country are obese, which is defined as roughly 35 or more pounds over a healthy weight, and a third of children and teens are considered overweight or obese.

Obesity increases the risk of many other diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some types of cancer. It is a major health problem that some say is long overdue for a new status.

"For those that say obesity is not a disease -- they are, you know, they are late. It is a disease we see that every day," said Dr. Enrique Elli, bariatric surgeon at University of Illinois Hospital.

Elli says while the AMA's decision has no legal bearing, the group still carries clout and could have a tremendous impact on treatments and insurance coverage.

He says that when it comes to clinically obese patients, it is not as simple as eating less and exercising more, because at a certain point, the body reaches a state it can no longer function properly.

"If we as physicians say obesity is a disease that will translate to the patients to realize that they have a problem," said Elli.

Marsh knows her weight issue is serious, and she wants to get serious about it.

"It's not easy at all," said Marsh. "It's not."

This is very controversial issue for many reasons, starting with the argument that there is not even an agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease. There are even issues with the way obesity itself is defined.

Opponents say declaring obesity a disease might give people the excuse not to do anything or lead to more reliance on costly drugs and surgery instead of lifestyle changes.

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