American Medical Association recognizes obesity as disease

Vote may increase pressure on health insurance companies to cover all treatment for weight loss


SAN ANTONIO – It's a problem that affects more than 78 million American adults and 12 million children.

And now, the American Medical Association is declaring obesity a disease, rather than a condition.

The association voted on Tuesday to recognize obesity as a disease, but before Tuesday's vote, obesity was only associated with medical problems like Type II diabetes, sleep apnea and high blood pressure.

"It's multi-factorial. It's not just one thing," said Dr. Richard Peterson, chief of bariatric surgery at U.T. Medicine San Antonio. "The stigma associated with obesity before is, well, if you just diet and exercise, that will just take care of the problem, but that's really not the case. That's not always the answer. It's probably the answer less and less as we go forward."

Peterson said he sees between 50 and 60 patients a month and that he and his colleagues have always felt obesity was a disease, but now that the American Medical Association has officially voted to declare it a disease, Peterson said they may see more funding.

"A lot of patients who want help can't actually do it because they can't afford it," said Peterson. "So this should actually open up that access, which is really one of the big things that we are looking to do, that patients get the help that they need."

The vote may also step up pressure on health insurance companies to cover all types of treatment for weight loss.

"Now (patients) can get a dietitian to help them get through it," said Peterson. "Now they can get a personal trainer because the doctor ordered it and it's going to be covered. Now they are going to be more compliant because the barriers that were stopping them from before are gone."

Still, Peterson said, it may take some time for insurance companies to catch on.

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