AMA Acknowledges Obesity As A Disease

June 19, 2013

"RESOLVED, That our American Medical Association recognize obesity as a disease state with multiple pathophysiological aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention."

In an annual meeting in Chicago yesterday, an overwhelming vote by 524 members of the American Medical Association's (AMA) policy-making House of Delegates resulted in an official endorsement recognizing obesity as a disease.  It is their hope that by doing so, more treatment options, preventative programs and education, as well as better reimbursement for treating individuals fighting obesity will bring forth better health outcomes.

“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, a board member of the AMA.  "The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes which are often linked to obesity."

Although the AMA's recognition does not impact any legal influences, it will impact how obesity is treated in the future and will significantly affect what is covered or not covered in many health insurance policies.

The measure to classify obesity as a disease was met with some opposition. The House of Delegates voted against the recommendation of AMA's Council on Science and Public Health which did not support the decision. In a 14-page report released Monday and after a year long study, the Science and Public Health council says that obesity should not be recognized as a disease mostly because the measure to define obesity, the BMI, is flawed.

“Given the existing limitations of BMI 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 wrote. It is also their conclusion that obesity is not an illness but instead results from personal choices to overeat or live a sedentary lifestyle.

Recognizing obesity as a disease has been a long time hope of Morgan Downey, an advocate for individuals fighting obesity and publisher of the online Downey Obesity Report.  He says that recognizing obesity as a disease will result in physicians taking obesity more seriously. Downy co-authored a paper in 2008 in which the Obesity Society officially supported recognizing obesity as a disease.

Several national doctor groups were amongst those who supported the resolution.  They include: the American College of Surgeons, American College of Cardiology, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the American Urological Association, just to name a few.

“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,” the resolution said.