What’s in a name? The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest group of physicians in the U.S., held their annual conference in Chicago on Tuesday and since then, the definition of obesity has changed. Previously defined as a “major public health problem,” obesity is now recognized as a disease.
The goal of deeming obesity a disease? The Association hopes that grouping obesity in the same category as other conditions that require a range of medical interventions will advance treatment and prevention. By recognizing obesity as a disease, the hope is that physicians will make treatment a priority, thereby reducing in the incidence of obesity-related disease including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The Association’s vote isn’t legally binding on what constitutes as a disease (that’s up to the International Classification of Diseases), but it is influential. The Association’s vote may even affect how insurance companies treat obesity-related conditions, as well as the pricey medications and procedures used to treat them. Since the vote, some doctors have shared their fear that calling obesity a disease will be stigmatizing. A greater fear is that Americans will try to “cure” their disease with expensive drug treatments rather than with exercise and diet.
While the label “disease” conjures up some concerns, the name change could urge policy-makers and other authorities to take action and back obesity prevention programs.