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Obesity labeled disease by the American Medical Association

The American Medical Association voted on Tuesday during its annual meeting in Chicago that obesity is officially a “disease.” The result of the vote, according to the AMA, is obesity will now be treated with "a wide range of medical interventions and prevention strategies.”

This move is considered important because, although many other groups have already labeled obesity a disease, the AMA had failed to do so. Now, with the announcement experts contend the medical community may look at obesity differently.

Obesity is defined as having a body mass index or BMI of 30 or higher. Obesity also leads to serious health conditions including diabetes, strokes, liver disease, sleep apnea and heart disease. Obesity has increased at an astounding rate of 50% between 1997 and 2012. Now almost 30% of adults are considered obese, and childhood obesity rates have almost doubled in the past 30 years (information provided by the Centers for Disease for Control and Prevention).

Dangers of reclassifying Obesity

The move was not applauded by all groups; in fact, some experts complain that conditions which can often be improved with lifestyle changes including exercise and dietary restrictions are not really “diseases.” Others believe many individuals now may now choose to look for quick interventions or medications rather than making the harder choices to change their lifestyles.

Others argue the designation as a disease may eliminate the stigma associated with obesity.  For instance, Joe Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition believes, "Obesity has been considered for a long time to be a failure of personal responsibility -- a simple problem of eating too much and exercising too little," he said. "But it's a complex disease... we're hoping attitudes will change."

Cost of Obesity on America

One thing everyone can agree on is the high cost of treating obesity and the impact it has on medical care in America. According Nadglowski, “Obesity-related health care expenses cost Americans between $147 billion to $210 billion per year. Preventing and treating obesity before it leads to more serious diseases could help combat these costs.”

The issue for all of us to consider is how this classifying can affect the cost of our healthcare. This declaration may help people gain access to obesity treatment, which could lessen the chance that they will acquire other costly disease, but increasing obesity treatment options for Medicare patients or offering disability benefits to the obese could be so costly it cannot sustained.

SSDI and Obesity

Currently the Social Security Administration does not define obesity as a disabling health condition. The truth is there are many obese workers who are able to maintain full-time employment. There is no indication at this time how the AMA decision will impact SSDI benefits and the policies of the Social Security Administration.

The truth is with 30% of Americans labeled as obese, there is no way the SSA can offer disability benefits to every worker who is obese.
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