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Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, August 1, 2013

At the same time, studies show some doctors have biases toward obese patients. A 2009 Journal of General Internal Medicine study showed that 40 Baltimore area physicians and 238 of their patients found that doctors have a lower respect for patients with higher BMI.

That's no way to help patients.

Harris of the AMA is convinced, however, that characterizing obesity as a disease will spur much-needed changes in treatment of the condition.

"Recognizing obesity as a disease will encourage patients and physicians to have candid conversations about their weight, and also about other key health indicators like blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels," she says.

"This will help to facilitate a dialogue between patients and physicians to determine which behavioral, medicinal or surgical options may be right for each patient," she adds.

If physicians don't have that "dialogue" with patients, the AMA's characterization of obesity as a disease won't mean much, and will be pretty much forgotten, especially if funding for treatment of obesity isn't improved.


Joe Cantlupe is a senior editor with HealthLeaders Media Online.
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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!!!!