Corinne Kohlen

by Corinne Kohlen, Registered Dietitian, Certified Diabetes Educator, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
Spartan Pro Team Member

The American Medical Association (AMA) voted Tuesday, June 18, to classify obesity as a disease. This decision has come after much controversy and years of debate.

Currently obesity is defined by using Body Mass Index or BMI. BMI is a ratio of one’s weight to height and for most people* correlates with their amount of body fat. A BMI of 18.5 -24.9 is classified as “normal weight” while a BMI above 30 is classified as obese. It is estimated that 1 in 3 Americans has a BMI over 30. That translates to 78 million adults and 12 million children who are obese, and now according to the AMA have a “disease”.

The vote was against the recommendations of the Counsel of Science and Public Health who believes BMI as a measure of obesity is flawed. They feel that a BMI of 30 is a very arbitrary threshold; People with a BMI of 30 can be very healthy and muscular while many people at a “normal” BMI may have multiple metabolic issues. There is also concern that once diagnosed with a “disease” people may become overly reliant on medication and surgery as a solution to obesity and neglect to focus on lifestyle and behavioral changes.
The AMA was joined by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Cardiology to classify obesity as a disease. Supporters of the vote site multiple reasons for their decision. They believe classifying obesity as a disease will reduce the stigma associated with the condition and make it easier for physicians and patients to talk about. It may also help get the attention of insurers and researchers and increase reimbursement and availability of counseling, treatments, surgery, prevention, and drugs to treat obesity.

The AMA denies that obesity is simply the result of overeating and under activity. “The suggestion that obesity is not a disease but rather a consequence of a chosen lifestyle exemplified by overeating and/or inactivity is equivalent to suggestion that lung cancer is not a disease because it was brought about by individual choice to smoke cigarettes.”

As one can imagine this decision and statement has created much controversy. The AMA feels this decision will only better the treatment and care of the obese, and will open up opportunities to more people for care. Currently Medicare does not pay for obesity related drugs, or dietitian counseling regarding obesity.

For many it is difficult to not blame diet and lifestyle for the rise in obesity. With portions being supersized, foods packed with saturated fat, processed sugars, and loaded in calories, and people becoming more and more sedentary it seems a logical correlation. With the addition of just 500 calories a day one will gain a pound a week. For some these calories “sneak” in with their morning blended coffee drink, with their side of fries or potato chips, or with their soda or sweet tea.

On the flipside of things obesity can be prevented and even reversed by focusing on portion control, appropriate daily calories, and an active lifestyle. It seems almost too simple but daily exercise and mindful eating can help maintain healthy body weight and prevent obesity.

What do you think? Should obesity be classified as a disease? Will classifying obesity as a disease help or hurt in our fight against obesity?

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3 Responses

  1. avatar

    Wow, there is so much wrong with this entire situation. For starters, BMI should be completely thrown out. I am 5’0″, 142lbs, I wear a size 6 jean and my BMI would give me this new disease called “obesity”. So BMI is a joke. My 12 yo daughter is classified as “obese” by BMI standards and of course, she is not the least bit “fat”, she is an athlete (that was a fun conversation when her school “fitness test” results came home). There’s one part of the problem. I have mixed emotions on the classification of obesity as a disease. I believe for the most part that it is more about money than anything else. Obviously insurance companies are going to be paying for so much more. I am all for folks trying to get healthier by making lifestyle changes and educating themselves. And of course, there are folks who have honest medical conditions that make weight loss/gain tricky (for lack of a better word). The food industry, coupled with the media/marketing, are in a big part, to blame for our country’s obesity epidemic. There is so much to say but basically, it is a vicious cycle, perpetuated by lobbyists and our government – they take our money making us fat and then take our money trying to make us not fat. For a good eye-opener, watch the documentary “Living at Large”.

  2. avatar

    I was up in arms over the fact that the AMA classified obesity as a disease. Words just can not justify the horrible decision made.

  3. avatar

    Classifying obesity as a disease will only further line the pockets of the diet industry. It’s opened the door for doctors to receive more money as well from insurers for “treating” their fat patients.

    Obesity is a symptom of a multitude of other issues. It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing. It can be and is the result of other diseases.

    Using BMI to determine whether one is overweight or not is out-dated as well. Tom Cruise would be considered obese if we used BMI as a measuring tool. (And I fully realize you indicated as such in your post.)

    Obesity can not always be prevented, no matter how much or how little you eat. Everyone is an individual and unique; just as are the reasons for someone being fat and whether or not they can lose weight.

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