By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
WASHINGTON – The American Medical Association voted this week to declare obesity a disease, a move effectively defining 78 million American adults and 12 million children as having a medical condition requiring treatment.
“It’s going to have tremendous implications,” said Tupelo family physician Dr. Edward Hill, a past president of the American Medical Association who attended the annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
Tuesday’s vote is certain to step up pressure on health insurance companies to reimburse physicians for the time-consuming task of discussing obesity’s health risks with patients whose body mass index exceeds 30. It should also encourage doctors to direct these patients to weight-loss programs and to monitor their often-fitful progress.
Obesity is costly in terms of health care, raising the risk of other diseases including diabetes, heart attack, stroke and cancer, in terms of economics in lost productivity and absenteeism and in terms of human suffering, said Tupelo bariatric surgeon Dr. Terry Pinson.
“It’s not just being larger,” Pinson said. “It’s all of the disease processes that go with it.”
Pinson believes defining obesity as a disease will further galvanize individuals, businesses, communities and government agencies to take action.
“Because it’s a disease state, I think we’ll see more projects like HealthWorks!” the children’s health education center created in Tupelo as part of a regional effort, Pinson said.
The nation’s leading physicians organization took the vote after intensive process of research and debate, considering if it would help patients get treatment or stigmatize a condition with many causes and few easy fixes.
“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, an AMA board member.
There’s good reason to consider obesity a disease process.
“Fat acts as an organ, producing enzymes just like other organs, and effects all the other systems,” said Hill, who is a longtime advocate for comprehensive school health education programs. “It’s driving so many other problems.”
McClatchy-Tribune contributed to this report.