Obesity Disease Recognized by the American Medical Association
In June 2013, the American Medical Association announced that it was now officially recognizing obesity as a disease. This was a step that was made for many reasons, including the potential to encourage doctors to pay a larger amount of attention to patients who have the condition and may prompt a larger number of insurers to cover the treatments for its management.
How the AMA Recognized the Obesity Disease
In order to make the decision to recognize obesity as a disease, the associations delegates in attendance of its annual meeting in Chicago overrode a previous recommendation against doing so. That recommendation had been made by a committee charged with researching the issue.
According to one of the board members of the association, Dr. Patrice Harris, the decision to recognize obesity as a disease will be vital in changing the way that the medical community deals with this “complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans”. She also indicated that defining it as a disease, would play an important role in the battle against Type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease, which are both heavily connected with obesity.
Limitations to the American Medical Association’s Designation
To a certain degree, the decision as to whether or not obesity is actually a disease is not simply a matter of semantics, as there has not been a universally agreed upon definition of what makes up a disease in the first place. Moreover, this decision from the American Medical Association does not apply any legal authority.
At the same time, obesity advocates and doctors have stated that it will be beneficial to have the largest physician group in the United States recognize obesity in this way as it will encourage a greater focus on this newly defined disease. Moreover, it may also help to better the reimbursement available for surgery, counseling, and obesity medications.
An advocate for obese people, Morgan Downey, who was the online publisher of the Downey Obesity Report, stated that it is likely that this new definition as a disease will likely have physicians taking obesity more seriously and may encourage them to counsel their patients about it more than they have. Downey added that companies that are marketing anti-obesity products will be able to add this to the points that they make when they introduce their products to physicians, saying “Look, the mother ship has now recognized obesity as a disease.”
Poor reimbursement and a lack of counseling from physicians regarding products has been one of the primary barriers to the success of obesity medications, including the two latest, Qsymia (from Vivus) and Belviq (from Arena Pharmaceuticals and Eisai).
Struggles Continue Today with the Obesity Disease
Nearly a decade has passed since the AMA first recognized the obesity disease as such, and struggles continue both in the medical community and across the general population of the United States. Though progress has been made, it has not reached the point that many were hoping we would have achieved.
This is true right down to the language choices still being commonly used, saying that someone is obese instead of recognizing them as a person with obesity as is the case with most other diseases. Person-first language is used for heart disease, cancer, and other recognized medical conditions. This shift continues to be a struggle with obesity as a disease, and according to many experts, the lack of appropriate use of language in these circumstances is perpetuating judgments and false assumptions about the illness and those who have it – including from doctors treating them.
While the milestone was an important one, it is clear that there is still a long way to go with our progress in recognizing, handling and treating the obesity disease.