The American Medical Association officially recognizes obesity as a disease. Tuesday’s vote came after a debate on how this decision would be viewed. It would either help people seek treatment or could add to more stereotyping and social stigma.
There has been a steep rise in obesity in the last several years. Currently, one-third of adults and 17 percent of children in the United States are considered obese. With that comes an increase in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a host of other illnesses. Many doctors have been treating it as a psychological problem–looking at stress and emotional problems, and how eating helps the patient compensate. Many time-saving inventions have reduced the need for physical activity. The remote control for the television is a good example. People no longer have to get up and walk across the room to turn it on and off or change channels.
While emotions and lack of exercise may contribute to excessive weight, there is a difference between being overweight and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an overweight adult has a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9. An obese adult has a BMI of 30 or higher. BMI is calculated based on a person’s height and weight, and correlates the amount of body fat.
Now that the AMA has redefined obesity, doctors are hoping this will encourage insurance carriers, health organizations, and obesity prevention groups to focus more on the issue. Private insurers have not been consistent in their coverage of bariatric surgery and behavioral therapy related to obesity. Medicare, on the other hand, does cover these costs and insures 13 million adults, 65 years of age and older, who are considered obese. The Los Angeles Times reported that the California Association of Health Plans also covers many obesity-related medical conditions.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved two new prescriptions for weight-loss since 1999, but could step up drug development with obesity’s reclassification. Prevention programs for schools and communities could also experience a greater urgency ranging from physical education programs to school lunch programs and nutrition seminars.
The concerns that were raised before the vote was taken still exist. The AMA does not want the public to see this as a catch-all. In other words, people should not rely totally on prescription drugs and surgical treatments. Surgery and pills should not be used as a quick fix. Healthy diets and regular exercise should be encouraged at all levels.
Written by: Cynthia Collins, Guardian Correspondent