Obesity, a Fledgling Disease, Needs Physician Support

Joe Cantlupe, August 1, 2013

If physicians don't start having serious dialogues with their overweight patients, the American Medical Association's recent classification of obesity as a disease won't mean much at all.

So, America is heavyset. It's husky, unslender, and thin-challenged.

What's in a name? As more Americans are tipping the scales toward obesity, the American Medical Association says that another name is linked to obesity and that name is: disease.

Delegates at the AMA's annual meeting last month voted to recognize obesity as a disease, elevating it from its previous status as just another health concern. Proponents hope the move will prompt reimbursement changes that may allow physicians to take more time to discuss obesity with patients and advise them to change their diets.

But not everyone agrees with the shift, and some are wondering whether the AMA is missing the point because of the complexities of obesity. Critics also note that one of the AMA's key committees even recommended against declaring obesity a disease because of different definitions being used for body mass.

Michael Nusbaum, MD, medical director of the Obesity Treatment Centers of New Jersey, doesn't think so. How ironic, he says, that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act doesn't treat obesity as a disease. By omitting it from essential benefits, tens of millions of Americans "are disenfranchised from the healthcare system," he told me.

He says the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and insurance plans should "wake up and admit it's a disease; it needs to be treated like a disease and covered like a disease."

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


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