The American Medical Association is considering making obesity an official disease, in what could be a landmark move not only for treatment, but in regards to studies that directly affect causes of said [potential] disease:

“More widespread recognition of obesity as a disease could result in greater investment by government and the private sector to develop and reimburse obesity treatments,” a 14-page report released by the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health said.

MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyImages

MARK RALSTON/AFP/GettyImages

While any action this week by AMA delegates has no legal authority, its policy stances in the past have been used by policymakers in Washington and in state capitols across the country when medical policy and health regulations are debated and made.

In a 14-page report, the AMA’s science and public health council offered its membership pros and cons of classifying obesity as a disease.  On the proponent side, the report said obesity is “similar to other diseases . . . (such as) hypertension, diabetes, lung cancer that result from a combination of genetics and environmental factors.”

On Sunday, several doctors who testified at an AMA panel on public health issues said doctors needed to be compensated for treating obesity and a disease classification would help in that regard.

Dr. Virginia Hall, an obstetrician from HersheyPa.,  said the AMA should endorse declaring obesity as a disease so “insurers can stop ducking their responsibility” in paying for treatment of the obese.

Yet opponents to classifying obesity as a disease reason “obesity results from personal choices to overeat or live a sedentary lifestyle,” the report states. Therefore, opponents say obesity is not an illness, the council on science and public health said.

Some, including AMA delegates testifying this week, worry that classifying obesity as a disease would lead unnecessarily to a spike in health care costs and not necessarily improve patient outcomes.

Employers and insurance companies say the current reimbursement structure for obesity as a condition is adequate and those who pay for health care have increasingly added new benefits to address the obesity epidemic.

“We understand obesity as a condition and a risk factor for other diseases,” said Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, which includes the nation’s largest health plans, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Cigna, Humana and many Blue Cross plans among its membership.

“The important thing is to get programs and supports in place to address it, as health plans have done and are doing,” Pisano added. [source]

The comments – ohh, boy – aren’t what you’d expect from a Forbes article, full of subtleties such as “KEEP THOSE FATTIES OFF MY HEALTH INSURANCE POOL.”

I, however, have a few thoughts I’d like to hear some insight on:

1) If the AMA is lobbying for obesity to be considered as a disease, does this mean that the government would funnel more public research dollars into studying what contributes to it? Potentially write policy to prevent it?

Does this mean that the food industry might have a vested interest in preventing obesity from being considered a disease? Should we be watching for the food industry and its controlling organizations to be making moves on this?

2) If obesity were classified as a disease by the government, does this mean that treatments to combat obesity, like health coaches, personal trainers, eating disorder therapy and the like would be covered, in some way, by health insurance? I mean, I know that bariatric surgeries and other similar services are often covered under certain circumstances, but what about people who don’t fit those requirements yet, who want assistance they may not be able to afford? Do we want people gaining weight to qualify for surgery? And, quite honestly, many people who do get surgery still need assistance after all the cutting and snipping has been done. Could insurance potentially cover that, as well?

The doctor in the article says it herself – doctors want to be able to charge patients for their insight and expertise when it comes to treating obesity, but since doctors aren’t the only ones who have expertise on treating obesity… then what?

3) If obesity is classified as a disease, how does this affect our daily interactions with people who may appear to be unhealthily obese? Is it going to change anything – make it better? Make it worse? – or is it going to be the same ol’ fat-shaming song?

What are other consequences or positives of this kind of decision? What am I leaving out? Fill me in!

Update, 9:20pm:  It’s a wrap, y’all:

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physician organization, decided Tuesday to recognize obesity as a disease that requires a range of medical interventions for treatment and prevention.

The decision was made at the group’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Experts in obesity have struggled for years to have obesity recognized as a disease that deserves medical attention and insurance coverage as do other diseases. Previously the AMA and others have referred to obesity as “a major public health problem.”

“The American Medical Association’s recognition that obesity is a disease carries a lot of clout,” says Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “The most important aspect of the AMA decision is that the AMA is a respected representative of American medicine. Their opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity.” [source]

Really makes you wonder how this changes the lobbying landscape, now. Hmmm.