The American Medical Association has officially decided to recognize obesity as a disease. The A.M.A.'s decision has no legal authority and, as of now, weight loss drugs remain uncovered by Medicare, but the A.M.A. board members hope their decision will lead the medical community to pay closer attention to their patients' needs and insurance companies to cover a broader range of treatments.
In a statement released by Dr. Patrice Harris, an A.M.A. board member, the doctor wrote, “Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans."
The A.M.A.'s decision goes against the recommendation of the Council on Science and Public Health — the association's own committee that was chosen to research the pros and cons of recognizing obesity as a disease.
The council concluded that diagnosing obesity is too difficult because the method for diagnosis — determining the patient's body mass index (BMI) — is very flawed.
The council wrote, "Given the existing limitations of B.M.I. to diagnose obesity in clinical practice, it is unclear that recognizing obesity as a disease, as opposed to a ‘condition’ or ‘disorder,’ will result in improved health outcomes.”
The council also argued that obesity is more of a risk factor for other conditions than it is a disease in and of itself and that, by classifying it as a disease, the A.M.A. would be concluding that one-third of Americans are ill. The council worried this could lead to an over dependence on drugs and surgeries as a solution and that healthy patients could be unnecessarily treated simply because their B.M.I. was above the line that would classify them as obese.
As a pro, the council considered that classifying obesity as a disease could reduce the stigma surrounding it and change public perception that obesity is simply causes by unhealthy, inactive lifestyles.
While in the end, the council determined that obesity shouldn't be classified as a disease, the A.M.A. voted otherwise, resulting in a resolution that declared obesity was a “multimetabolic and hormonal disease state" and that "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.”
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