American Medical Association declares obesity a disease [POLL]

June 19, 2013

Obesity affects about one in three adults.

Whether to call it a "disease" has been a question and a controversy for several years.

And now the question is: will calling it a disease help to curb the epidemic? It might depend on who you ask for the answer.

Doctor Prashanth Ramachandra, also known as Dr. Rom, is director of the bariatric program at Mercy Fitzgerald.

He applauds the AMA's decision to classify obesity as a disease.

"If you look at what disease is, anything that leads to bodily harm or has the consequences negative to the body," says Dr. Rom.

He says consequences such as heart disease and diabetes can be devastating, and calling obesity a disease will get more doctors to address the problem and insurance companies to pay for treatments.

"I feel great," says Thomas Miller, of Clifton Heights. He says he lost 60 pounds with the help of his daughter.

He thinks if calling obesity a disease helps more people get support, he's all for it.

"Help is important, in my opinion," he remarked.

But the non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom, a coalition of restaurants and food companies, says calling obesity a disease "does a disservice to the millions of Americans trying to lose weight."

Its statement goes on to say "it only serves to set them up for failure, as they blame their newly-defined affliction, rather than their own lack of personal responsibility. No one denies that the obesity equation is relatively simple: if you eat too much and exercise too little, you'll put on weight."

Dr. Rom says, "Every patient we treat understands they have a role to play in what they are going through but they also understand without help they are not going to win this battle."

Dr. Charles Burant, an obesity expert at the University of Michigan, says that while obesity leads to other diseases, "in and of itself, I don't believe that obesity is an abnormal condition. It's just a condition that's developed in our environment."

He says humans never got obese before we surrounded ourselves with a plentiful supply of tasty food, and, "There are all types of foods that have been engineered to get us to crave more."

While calling obesity a 'disease' may not be accurate, Dr. Burant concedes it may help generate more research for solutions.

The decision from the American Medical Association could lead doctors and insurance companies to pay more attention to obesity and obesity-related issues, such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Recent surveys show doctors often don't discuss weight control issues with patients, even with those who are already overweight.

Medicare pays for some weight control programs, such as Weight Watchers, however, it doesn't pay for medicatons.

And there is a similar situation among private insurers.

Independence Blue Cross pays for bariatric surgery when it's medically recommended. It also pays for obesity screening and counseling, including nutritional counseling.

However, drugs are only paid for under health plans with a prescription benefit.

The newly approved drug Belviq costs about $200 a month, while Qsymia, which was approved in 2012, costs from $150 to $228 a month, depending on dosage.

The decision to classify obesity as a disease came after the council studying the issue recommended against it. Many critics question whether this move will improve peoples health.

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