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Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 1, 2013

Yet Andrew Weil, MD, a best-selling author on health and eating, disagrees, saying on his Web site, "I do not consider obesity a disease." Instead, he sees it as "a condition that may increase risk of certain diseases. It is possible to be obese and healthy – if one eats a balanced diet, gets regular physical activity, attends to other aspects of lifestyle that influence health and makes use of appropriate preventive medical services," Weil writes. He declined an email request for comment.

Controversy notwithstanding, with its latest move, the AMA hopes put pressure on insurers to cover the diagnosis of obesity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 65% of adults over age 20 are overweight. At least 30 million Americans have diabetes, also linked to obesity. For obese patients, there also is an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, kidney, and gallbladder disease. Moreover, 17% of children are considered obese.

"We know the health consequences and financial burden of obesity on our country is devastating," says AMA board member Patrice A. Harris, MD. "As physicians who are on the front line treating this disease, we seek to elevate this issue and get people to pay attention to the seriousness of the situation, which was one motivating factor in adopting the new policy."

Since the AMA's decision, it has "sparked a public conversation about obesity and its health consequences," Harris adds.

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4 comments on "Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support"


Ben D (8/2/2013 at 12:11 PM)
Doctors, please refer your patients to Overeaters Anonymous. It is a disease which has emotional, mental, and physical consequences. You can't eat yourself happy. To find meetings, search for your state and Overeaters Anonymous. They have the support and training needed to sustain weight loss.

ljh (8/2/2013 at 10:40 AM)
You say "discussions between physician and patient may be the most helpful tool in treating obesity", but I respectfully disagree. If it were that easy, if speaking to your physician about the quantity of adipose tissue in your body actually helped, we wouldn't have the obesity epidemic we do. Even daily discussions with a physician will not prevent the purchase of a chocolate candy bar or an order of fried potatoes, or choosing the parking place closest to the mall doors. The recidivism rate of obesity is mind-boggling -less than 10% manage to keep 5% (!) of their body weight off 5 years after a weight loss program. Obesity is a reflection of evolutionary drive to consume calorie dense foods when available, coupled with the explosion of technology which gave us those foods in a palatable form with an absolute minimum of effort. While I enjoy chatting with my physician, I doubt he has the ability to thwart a million years of mammalian evolution, even if he's compensated by the Feds. As far as I know, bariatric surgery is the only treatment for obesity that has a success rate over single digits 10 years out, correct?

Christie Osuagwu, MPA, MSN, FNP, PhD (8/1/2013 at 11:20 PM)
I applaud the AMA for making this declaration that is long overdue. Physicians and providers at every level should not hesitate to tell any patient that they are obese. Patients should understand what that means for their health, quality of life and eventually their lifespan. Obesity is a disease with too many unfriendly friends, as it predisposes individuals to major preventable health issues including cardiovascular disease, diabetes,and hypertension,just to name a few. Obesity is a plague and must be recognized and treated as such. We need to stop sugar coating it; we need to educate our patients properly, we need to call obesity its name and not be 'nice' to patients by avoiding the truth of their obese status. We are actually cheating them if we don't. Our nation is drowning in fat and it is preventable!!!!