AMA Declares Obesity is a Disease

August 12, 2013

The American Medical Association's House of Delegates recently joined other influential groups, including the National Institutes of Health, the Social Security Administration and Medicare, in declaring obesity a disease. Although some disagree with the decision, it could have important effects and help change the way the medical community tackles obesity - a complex and prevalent health issue.

Obesity is serious: it is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which impact millions of people. It is also associated with more than 40 other medical problems including cancer, sleep apnea and arthritis. To varying extents, these illnesses can be treated with medications, however the core problem remains: the obesity. Bariatric surgery, such as the Lap-Band or Gastric Sleeve, has the highest cure rate for obesity and its related conditions, but in the past was viewed as a "last resort" option. In the last decade, improvements have been made in bariatric surgery that have made this treatment option a strong choice for many. Primarily because of the introduction of safer procedures and successful improvement seen in diabetes, both the American Society for Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) include weight loss surgery as a safe and effective early treatment option in fighting obesity.

Unfortunately, some insurance companies specifically exclude the treatment of obesity and severe obesity from their coverage policies. Even though the AMA has no legal power, their "recognition of obesity as a disease sends a powerful message that access to evidence-based treatments across the spectrum of the disease are medically necessary, and should be treated in similar fashion to treatments for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure," according to Dr. Jaime Ponce, President of the ASMBS. This may be a good step in the right direction for getting obesity treatment the appropriate level of attention.