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Obesity officially classified as a disease: American Medical Association

June 19, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The nation's largest group of physicians announced it is classifying obesity as a disease. It's a decision that could have a serious impact on the estimated 90 million Americans who are obese.

The next time you go see your doctor, you may be in for a more serious discussion about your diet and exercise. It's simply a recommendation, but the American Medical Association hopes its ruling will send a strong message to the medical community, and that the message will get to you.

The American Medical Association officially calls obesity a disease.

"They hope that this will cause doctors to take it more seriously and insurance will pay for more of the treatments around this," said ABC News Senior Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

Internal medicine specialist Dr. John de Beixedon focuses a fourth of his practice specifically on weight-loss. He says it's going to take more than a name-change to tackle obesity.

"Just willy-nilly telling somebody 'OK, diet and exercise, that's all you have to do.' It's not going to work. You really have to give people real specifics," said de Beixedon.

He says to be effective doctors need more time with their patients and consistent follow-up. And whether Medicare and other insurance will pay for weight-loss treatments remains to be seen.

"I doubt that they are going to want to put money into extra counseling and extra exercise. Of course the government could say 'It's mandatory.' And if they do that then they have to do it," said de Beixedon.

Some experts worry that suddenly declaring a third of Americans "ill" or "sick" might increase the demand for quick interventions such as weight-loss surgery or medications, and it may discourage some from making lifestyle changes.

"There will be people who will then say 'I'm obese and it's a disease, and get used to it, there's nothing I can do, I just have a disease,'" said de Beixedon.

But the AMA hopes calling obesity a disease will at least change the approach doctors take and maybe more patients will take their doctor's advice more seriously.

Dr. Richard Besser adds the focus of the discussion should be more on prevention, especially making sure kids get more time to be active and are encouraged to make healthier food choices.


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