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Effects of Classifying Obesity as a Disease Category: Diet & Weight Loss by - September 6, 2013 | Views: 18780 | Likes: 1 | Comment: 2  

In June 2013, the American Medical Association (AMA) classified obesity as a disease against recommendations from the association’s Council on Science and Public Health. This declaration has sparked some controversy in the medical community in favor or against classifying obesity as a disease.  

Arguments for classifying obesity as a disease

Some of the suggested benefits of classifying obesity as a disease include:

  • Increasing awareness about obesity
  • Increase in research dollars for obesity
  • Increased reimbursement for obesity medications, counseling, education, and surgery

Arguments against classifying obesity as a disease

Those who are against classifying obesity as a disease offer counter arguments similar to comments we received from Dr. Richard Hammer, Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology & Anatomical Sciences at University of Missouri of School of Medicine. Dr. Hammer stated that:

“Obesity is a product of our society, culture and food habits. The incidence of obesity has markedly increased over the last 50 years with the introduction of industrialized food processing which produce "non foods" full of artificial chemicals. Is Velveeta really food? The impact of sugar intake must also be considered, which has risen exponentially. Artificial sweeteners are no better and a recent shows they result in increased weight and obesity.

One has to look only to Asia to see a similar progression in obesity and chronic disease as they adopt and increasingly Western eating pattern. The classification of obesity as a disease seems irresponsible. Obesity is a symptom of society and poor food resulting in real diseases that contribute to ever expanding health care costs.

People needed to be educated about diet & nutrition and not have their bad eating habits of consuming nonfoods classified as a disease that can be medicated with more drugs provided by pharmaceutical companies. The timing of introducing a new obesity drug (minimally effective at best) at the same time is more than an unusual coincidence. This will now validate driving up insurance rates for all, to pay for ineffective drugs when less expensive dietary measures can be the solution. It will also contribute for more surgeries related to obesity, which are not risk free. Bariatric surgery results in lifelong metabolic imbalances and is not a "cure”.

Society as a whole must change its outlook on nutrition and food to curb this epidemic. Providing funding to natural organic food producers and local producers of fresh food, rather than supporting the fast food and pharmaceutical industry could have a huge impact on health and chronic disease, which are now one of the leading health care costs and cause of morbidity in the world.”

Weight loss drugs, surgery or life style changes

Many practitioners also have strong feelings about treating obesity with surgery or weight loss medications such as Qsymia and Belviq. Should pharmaceutical companies be blamed for making medications available that may help some people who are not successful with life style changes alone? Pharmaceutical companies did not create the obesity epidemic; they are only offering additional options for those who may benefit from medications. Moreover, no one is forced to use obesity medications. Are pharmaceutical companies any different from healthcare providers who are compensated for using their time, skills and training to manage obese individuals? Both are profiting from offering solutions or services to obese individuals. May be the best approach is for healthcare providers to educate, counsel, explain the risks and benefits of all treatments options, and help motivate obese individuals to lose weight.  

The Verdict

Both sides of this debate have some valid arguments and both sides agree that obesity is an epidemic and there should be more resources devoted to curbing the incidence of obesity and related conditions. It is quite possible that the recent AMA classification is a mute point or further supports several groups such as National Institute of Health (NIH), Public Health Services, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who already recognized obesity as a disease. Moreover, Medicaid, Medicare, and some private insurance companies cover obesity treatments. 

There really is no major downside from AMA classifying obesity as a disease. In the short-term the AMA announcement has stimulated discussion and increased focus on the growing obesity epidemic that everyone agrees needs to be addressed.

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