Thursday, June 20, 2013
A New Perspective on Obesity
On Tuesday, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially recognized obesity as a disease, rather than a health condition or a marker for increased health risks. The move now classifies 78 million people – one third of everyone in America – as categorically ill.
The AMA carries significant clout, and some obesity advocates say more attention will be paid to the crisis now that the nation’s largest physician group has made this disease declaration. It could also help improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling.
Naming obesity as a disease may also help color the debate on soda taxes in California, set to heat up in the coming months, in a more urgent light. Soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks are the leading contributors to the obesity crisis, particularly among children. Soda taxes have the potential to curb consumption of these dangerous products which may prevent a lifetime of (what we now may formally refer to as) disease.
What remains to be seen is how this will play out in our conversations and our collective imagination. Classifying obesity as a disease could reduce the stigma of being obese and change public perception that obesity is simply a result of irresponsible lifestyle choices. Causes of obesity are far more complex than just individual behavior, and our solutions must be creative, far reaching and policy driven.
From an advocate’s perspective, I welcome the new language. The word “disease” hits home and carries the right amount of gravitas to match the magnitude and high stakes of our current health crisis.