AMA calls obesity a disease; could spur coverage for treatment

The American Medical Association now recognizes obesity as a disease, which may make it easier for Kentuckians to fight the state’s obesity epidemic by gaining insurance coverage for necessary medical treatment. Under the leadership of newly elected President Ardis Hoven of Lexington, the physicians’ group voted to approve this new obesity policy June 18 during its annual meeting in Chicago. Click here to read the report by the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health.

Kentucky ranks 10th highest in the U.S. for adult obesity, and the state’s obesity rate is predicted to jump from 30 percent in 2011 to more than 60 percent in 2030. This year, $2.3 million is expected to be spent on medical costs linked to obesity, and that number is estimated to rise to $6 billion in 2018, says a report by the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky.

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Being overweight or obese greatly increases the risk of developing other chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke, arthritis, sleep apnea, asthma, heart attack and certain cancers or other complications like asthma, joint problems and psychological issues, says the report. Kentucky children also suffer from high rates of obesity, and if the current trend continues, one in every three American children will develop Type 2 diabetes.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue,” AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris said in a statement. Although Medicare and Medicaid do cover obesity treatment associated with another disease or disorder, they do not cover interventions and counseling about lifestyle changes necessary to fight obesity. The AMA declaration could lead to coverage and help increase funding for obesity research, reports Jacque Wilson of CNN. With the AMA now calling obesity a disease, “insurers can stop ducking their responsibility” in paying for obesity treatments, Dr. Virginia Hall, an obstetrician from Hershey, Pa., said in a Forbes magazine report by Bruce Japsen.

Also, identifying obesity as a disease help reduce the stigma often associated with being overweight, Joe Nadglowski, president of the Obesity Action Coalition, told Wilson. “Obesity has been considered for a long time to be a failure of personal responsibility — a simple problem of eating too much and exercising too little,” he said. “But it’s a complex disease. . . . We’re hoping attitudes will change.”

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