By Andréa Stanford
The American Medical Association (AMA), the
nation’s longstanding medical society that has the ability to influence public
health decisions, officially
recognized obesity as a disease. In a vote during the AMA’s
annual meeting in Chicago last week, members designated obesity
as a disease that deserves medical prevention and treatment. While this
decision does not have legal standing, it does elevate obesity to the level of
other chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Q: As a primary care
physician, what was your reaction to the AMA’s announcement?
A: This is a step
in the right direction. One-third of the U.S. population is obese, and obesity contributes
to more preventable deaths than smoking. This decision can potentially lead to
a definitive pathway for more programs, research, prevention and treatment
options for obese patients.
For physicians, we now have a meaningful way to address this
issue. Our patients are often unable to access weight-loss treatments
because health insurance does not cover patient referrals to dietitians and
other weight management resources unless a chronic illness diagnosis is
present. The hope is that now more patients will be able to receive these
treatment options in both medical and community settings.
Q: Will health costs
rise as a result of this decision?
A: That’s a great
question. Regardless of the AMA’s decision, health costs attributed to obesity
are already on the rise. Obesity is one of the major risk factors for
developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and cancer. As a
result, many individuals are at risk of developing kidney failure, receiving
heart transplants, taking medications to moderate blood pressure and having
limb amputations - the direct outcomes of this disease. Ultimately, it isn’t a
matter of the increase in cost; it becomes more of a decision on the timing. Will
society want to pay upfront for prevention programs to confront obesity, or
will the costs be absorbed in the result of not curbing this disease sooner?
Q: In addition to
health care professionals, are there other groups and/or organizations that share
the responsibility in confronting obesity?
A: Absolutely. Although
it is critical for individuals to take responsibility for their health
outcomes, there are several stakeholders that influence the trend of this
epidemic on the United States population. For example, the food industry
should be held accountable for the availability of healthy food options.
Additionally, companies need to be explicit in their product packaging, and
should remove misleading advertisements and labels that falsify the nutritional
value of consumer products.
Community planning also
plays a direct role in shaping the health patterns of inhabitants. Bike lanes
and walkable neighborhoods promote physical activity and influence positive
behavioral changes, while community gardens are beneficial in gathering
neighbors together to grow healthy foods.
With regards to childhood obesity, schools definitely play a role in prevention. Outlets for physical
activity including recess, physical education and after-school athletic
programs can help kids stay active outside the classroom setting. Additionally, placing healthy snack alternatives in vending machines and removing high
caloric foods from cafeteria menus are critical.
have a vested interest in the health of their workforce. UPMC does a great job
of encouraging healthy lifestyles by creating access to nutritional and
affordable food choices to employees at work, while also incentivizing
individuals to take “healthy steps” (i.e. preventive exams, smoking cessation,
etc.) to receive significant reductions in their health insurance deductible.
Q: How can patients
become proactive about their weight management?
A: Individuals struggling with obesity can definitely be proactive about
- Acknowledge. Understanding that your weight is an issue and confronting it head-on is
the first step to managing your health.
Information. Do your own research. There is a wealth of literature both
online and in print that can help you make lifestyle changes (eating right,
- Make an
appointment with your physician. Bring your research with you to your next
doctor’s appointment and create an action plan for effective weight loss with
your primary care provider. He or she can direct you to available resources to
help you achieve your goal.
Want to learn more about how the AMA's decision will impact obesity treatment? Listen to Dr. Esa Davis discuss this new development on 905. WESA's Essential Pittsburgh
Labels: American Medical Association, obesity, weight