In a monumental move for the fields of eating disorders and medical insurance, the American Medical Association (AMA)
has just announced that obesity will now be considered a disease.
On this past Tuesday June 18th, The American Medical Association voted to declare obesity a disease, a move that effectively defines 78 million American adults and 12 million children as having a medical condition requiring treatment. After long debate, the association took the vote, deciding that the change in medical status would end up helping more individuals than hurting.
The vote to define obesity as a medical disease will have large ramifications for the more than one-third of American adults and 17% of American children currently suffering from obesity. These changes will be especially apparent for insurance. While Medicare and some private insurers have long covered many services to treat medical conditions associated with obesity, including bariatric surgery, many private insurance companies have not considered these procedures medically necessary and have pushed them into consumers. The new decision from the AMA will change all that.
The AMA’s decision essentially makes diagnosis and treatment of obesity a physician’s professional obligation. Therefore, the decision should encourage primary care physicians to get over their discomfort about raising weight concerns with obese patients. Studies have found that more than half of obese patients have never been told by a medical professional they need to lose weight — a result not only of some doctors’ reluctance to offend but of their unwillingness to open a lengthy consultation for which they might not be reimbursed.
“As things stand now, primary care physicians tend to look at obesity as a behavior problem,” said Dr. Rexford Ahima of University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism. “This will force primary care physicians to address it, even if we don’t have a cure for it.”
This decision can be seen even more clearly as part of a general trend in the medical communities. Obesity rates have been climbing for over 30 years and have generated growing concern about public health risks associated with it. Recently more and more studies and experts have been voicing their concerns about obesity just as other organizations have moved to help curb unhealthy food habits.
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