The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines obesity as an adult that has a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. A healthy BMI is considered to be between 18.5 and 24.9, and an overweight BMI is from 25-29.9. Obesity has become a rapidly growing epidemic in the US, but it is not obesity itself that is the problem, it is the fact that overweight and obese people are much more likely to develop other life threatening conditions.
In order to fight the “obesity epidemic” the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to recognize obesity as a disease. This decision was announced on Tuesday June 18th. According the AMA obesity rates have “doubled among adults in the last twenty years and tripled among children in a single generation.” The World Health Organization (WHO) and the US FDA already classify obesity as a disease. A study done at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that adult obesity rates are over 30% in twelve US states, and that if these rates continue to increase at their current pace, the adult obesity rate will exceed 60% in 13 states, and all US states will have rates above 44% by the year 2030.
Obesity is associated with a plethora of diseases and conditions, including but not limited to: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. The AMA’s distinction of obesity as a disease was accompanied with a recommendation urging doctors and insurance agencies to “recognize obesity as a complex disorder” and encourage national efforts to educate the public about the health risks of being overweight and obese. The AMA also recommended that there be a National Obesity Awareness Month, to highlight benefits of exercise and emphasize the risks associated with obesity.
So the question remains: does it really matter if the AMA calls obesity a disease rather than a chronic disorder? The AMA believes that the upgrade of obesity to “disease status” will make a difference in the treatment that obese patients receive and cause insurance companies to think again about paying for weight-loss treatments, just as they do for smoking-cessation programs, according to Dr. Rexford Ahima of University of Pennsylvania’s Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism. The hope is that this status change will prompt health insurance companies to expand their coverage to include nutrition counseling, boost efforts to remove junk food from schools, pass taxes on sodas and most importantly bring additional awareness of the importance of the obesity and resulting diabetes epidemics and encourage us all to think about what we can do to change the culture in which we live.
Just to reitterite, the main goal of the classification of obesity as a disease is to make everyone, people, doctors, and insurance companies, more aware of the severity of the epidemic and encourage healthy habits.