The American Medical Association – the largest organization of physicians in the United States – this month formally recognized obesity as a disease. "The purpose of the policy is to advance obesity treatment and prevention," wrote AMA President Ardis Dee Hoven. "It issues a call for a paradigm shift in the way the medical community tackles this complicated issue so that we can reduce the number of Americans suffering from the effects of heart disease, diabetes, disability and other potentially life-changing health conditions."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese. The CDC estimates that obesity also affects 17 percent of children, "triple the rate from just one generation ago." An estimate from the nonprofit RTI International says that about 42 percent of Americans will be obese by 2030 if obesity trends continue.
Dr. Lou Aronne, an obesity expert, told CBS News that the AMA's move will "have a tremendous impact on legislation in Washington [and] with insurance companies," as insurance policies now "generally exclude obesity treatment." While Medicare removed language saying obesity is not a disease from its coverage manual in 2004, Medicare Part D will still not pay for weight loss drugs.
But not everyone is thrilled with the AMA's move. Linda Bacon, a nutritionist at the University of California at Davis, said, "the AMA just determined that some people are sick based on how they look. What's next? Will they pronounce being black as a disease because there are higher rates of cardiovascular disease in black communities?" Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, meanwhile, downplayed the whole debate: "I think it matters little whether we call obesity a disease, a condition or a disorder. We are already talking about the obesity epidemic. It matters less what we call it than what we do to prevent it."
Was the American Medical Association right to call obesity a disease? Here is the Debate Club's take:
Peggy Howell Public Relations Director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance
Hank Cardello Director of the Hudson Institute's Obesity Solutions Initiative
Joe Nadglowski President and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition
Ardis D. Hoven President of the American Medical Association