AMA declares obesity a disease

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Obesity in the Workplace, Obesity Policy

This week, the American Medical Association labeled obesity a disease, prompting statements from major health organizations, as well as stories and editorials from media.

In a press release, The Obesity Society noted, “The passage of a new American Medical Association policy classifying obesity as a disease reinforces the science behind obesity prevention and treatment.” The LA Times noted, “The AMA’s decision essentially makes diagnosis and treatment of obesity a physician’s professional obligation,” in part because such treatment will now be reimbursable by insurance companies. Just as important, it continued, the AMA’s opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions, research, and programs to prevent and treat obesity.

However, the decision was not without controversy. The AMA’s own Council on Science and Public Health of the American Medical Association issued a report expressing concern that obesity was typically diagnosed using body mass index (BMI), a measure that is imprecise and not always associated with poor health outcomes.

UGA nutrition and health specialist Connie Crawley says the AMA decision puts obesity in the same light as other long-term diseases, such as diabetes.  “Diabetes is a long-term condition, just like obesity is, and it is basically is never cured,” Crawley said. “It’s just managed.”  She also noted, “Calling obesity a disease also takes some of the stigma away that it is just a personal flaw in one’s character that causes it—just like drug addition or alcoholism are diseases.”