American Medical Association Recognizes Obesity as a Disease

American Medical Association Recognizes Obesity as a DiseaseIn a decision that could shape the way our country deals with the obesity epidemic in coming years, the American Medical Association (AMA), which is the largest organization of physicians in the United States, officially recognized obesity as a disease at its annual meeting of delegates in June.

This decision reflects the changing attitudes about obesity in our country. Though many people continue to believe that obesity results only from lifestyle choices, the AMA decision calls attention to the fact that we often gain weight due to factors that are out of our control. Ideally, the AMA decision will raise awareness about obesity and lead to better access to the weight loss help that many Americans need.

Obesity as a Chronic Disease

Though there is no universally acknowledged definition of “disease,” obesity meets some of the medical criteria of a disease, like impairing physical function. Obesity is a chronic condition that often gets worse over time, and it can result in serious disability for those who suffer from it. Because obesity is linked to dozens of serious medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease, it can also significantly shorten our lifespan.

Obesity is a highly complex condition that can be caused by factors in our environment, society, culture and our own biology. Each individual is affected differently by obesity, and succeeds best with a different form of treatment. The decision to label obesity a disease recognizes the complexities of the problem and how it should be treated, and other respected health groups like the World Health Organization have already made this distinction.

Predicting the AMA Decision’s Effects

Because the AMA does not control health policy, this decision does not have direct legal authority. Still, such decisions are often held in high regard by policymakers. Obesity advocates hope that the AMA decision will encourage lawmakers and physicians across the country to take obesity more seriously and enact changes that lead to better care for more obese people.

Hopefully, the AMA decision will help us reduce the pervasiveness of obesity in our society by:

  • Reducing the stigma attached to obesity by doctors and the public
  • Providing more substantial insurance reimbursements for weight loss treatment
  • Contributing to better medical training in the treatment of obesity and its related diseases
  • Encouraging greater funding for research into the prevention of obesity and conditions like heart disease and diabetes

The AMA’s decision may lead to a greater understanding of obesity and more help with weight loss for the people who need it. The millions of Americans who suffer from obesity deserve medical treatment just like anyone who suffers from a serious illness, and the AMA decision goes a long way in acknowledging this fact.