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Jul 22, 2013

Experts Recognize Obesity as a Disease

The American Medical Association joins health organizations in acknowledging obesity as a disease, deserving of proper treatment and prevention.

Obesity is a major public health concern, but should it be considered a disease? According to experts from the American Medical Association, the answer is yes.

This decision was made last month during the American Medical Association’s annual meeting in Chicago, where a committee of experts met to tackle the latest issues impacting public health. At the top of their agenda was obesity. Obesity rates in the United States have doubled among adults in the last 20 years and tripled among children in a single generation. One in three U.S. adults is currently obese and if these rates continue to increase at their current pace, national obesity rates could reach 44% in less than 20 years. The World Health Organization, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service already recognize obesity as a disease, but the American Medical Association hadn’t come out and publicly recognized obesity as an actual disease—until now.

The American Medical Association carries a great deal of clout in the public health field and until now, had considered obesity a “major public health concern.” By recognizing obesity as a disease, experts hope that it will encourage education and programming to reduce obesity rates in the U.S. and abroad. Obesity is a complex issue and has been directly linked to a number of diseases, including type 2 diabetesheart disease and some cancers. Recognizing obesity as a disease in itself (instead of a “major public health concern”) will help draw more attention to the issue, requiring a range of research and intervention that can help with both treatment and prevention. Doctors and patients alike need to perceive obesity as deserving of the same attention that other major diseases receive. Declaring obesity as a disease is a great first step in fighting the obesity epidemic and improving the health of Americans.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is a healthy weight?

  • A few important tools can be used to determine if an individual is underweight, normal weight or overweight. The easiest tool is a Body Mass Index, which is calculated using height and weight to estimate levels of body fat. However, Body Mass Index is not always accurate, particularly among individuals with extremely high or low amounts of muscle. In these cases, measuring waist circumference is helpful in assessing weight, as a waist circumference greater than 35 inches for a woman or 40 inches for a man is considered unhealthy.
  • How important is maintaining a healthy weight?

  • Overweight and obesity greatly increase risk for diabetes, heart disease and a number of cancers — all of which can be life threatening. Therefore, it is important to take action toward maintaining a healthy weight, as losing just 5-10% of your weight can help reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce risk for heart disease.

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