You may have read recent headlines regarding the American Medical Association now regarding obesity a disease.  Some don’t agree on whether obesity should be considered a disease but the facts prove that it is a chronic, frequently progressive, and rarely remitting disorder that triggers an additional 65 or more other conditions like arthritis Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea and even some cancers.  More than one-third of U.S. adults struggle to keep off the pounds, with or without doctors’ orders.

The standard definitions of disease include a change in a person’s body that negatively affects its structure and function.  Obesity causes structural changes in a person’s fat tissue and it also dictates how the body handles lipids, insulin and blood sugar.  As a result, fat exists where it’s not normally found in muscle, liver, cardiac tissue and the pancreas, interfering with organs’ ability to work properly.

While the risks have always been there, it’s been left up to the individual to treat themselves while raising a person’s premiums.  Currently, Medicare may cover weight loss surgery for some patients with obesity diagnosed alongside conditions such as Type 2 diabetes.  New programs have been put in place to focus on ways to target obesity with behavior.  The surgery remains one of the few interventions that insurance companies may cover, even for other people not on Medicare, though policies can vary by state.

Its epidemiology is strikingly similar to many other chronic metabolic and inflammatory disorders that have become more common in recent decades.  As with those disorders, obesity must be addressed with an approach of treatment rather than public shame if we are going to find a solution to a growing problem in our country. 

When the Institute of Medicine released its recommendations for essential health benefits to include in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the term obesity was not on the list. The report helped Congress dictate what health insurance companies should cover.  With this new classification by the AMA, it can lead to increased access to the very tools that patients, clinicians, family, and community members need to confront this public health catastrophe.

Hopefully this ruling will result in more patients getting better care, increased coverage for treatment options and the eventual decline in the current number (about 90 million) of Americans  who are officially designated as obese.   The AMA declaration is that it will focus more attention on obesity which could increase the amount of research dollars allocated towards obesity, expand obesity-related public health initiatives, and help improve reimbursement and services for obesity counseling, education, drugs and surgery.

If more attainable options of treatment are out there the end result is a healthier America.