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Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 1, 2013

"This classification changes the way physicians and the medical community will talk about obesity with their patients," she adds. "For instances, physicians previously had conversations with their patients about treating obesity's health implications, but this designation helps physicians to talk about obesity in and of itself."

Among the obstacles are different views of what constitutes obesity, especially in terms of body mass index. While the AMA believes a body mass index of 30 or greater should be considered obese, CMS holds to a different number, 35.

There have been major disagreements within the AMA itself, with the organization's Council on Science and Public Health voting against obesity being defined as a disease, in part because of various measures trying to define it.

"While recognizing the important public health implications of the obesity epidemic, the council was reluctant to identify obesity as a disease," Harris says. "Rather, they opted to reaffirm some important AMA obesity policies." The AMA's House of Delegates acknowledged the Council on Science and Public Health's position, she adds.

During the debate on the resolution, "physicians in the (House of Delegates) considered all the information in front of them, including the council report and testimony presented by various physicians, state and specialty societies," Harris says. "The council supports the view that the most important task moving forward is for the nation to do a better job of addressing the obesity epidemic."

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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!!!!