Issue: August 2013
Perspective from Steven R. Smith, MD
Perspective from W. Timothy Garvey, MD
June 19, 2013
4 min read

AMA: Obesity is a disease state

Issue: August 2013
Perspective from Steven R. Smith, MD
Perspective from W. Timothy Garvey, MD
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The American Medical Association House of Delegates recently approved a resolution recognizing obesity as a disease state requiring treatment and prevention efforts, according to a press release.

A number of organizations and medical societies, including the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, sponsored the resolution and now applaud the AMA’s decision. Other advocates include The Endocrine Society, the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Surgeons, the American Urological Association and the Texas State Delegation, among others.

“A paradigm shift is needed to reverse the course of this epidemic that now afflicts more than 60 million Americans,” Jeffrey I. Mechanick, MD, president of AACE, said in the release. “The action by the AMA House of Delegates represents a major step in addressing obesity head-on and helping patients to get appropriate interventions and treatment they need.”

Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher. According to a statement from the American Heart Association, more than one-third of US adults and almost 17% of US children aged 2 to 19 years are obese. Overweight and obesity increases the risk for many health conditions and disease, such as breast cancer, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, gall bladder disease, hypertension and stroke. Medical costs associated with adult obesity are estimated to range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. Further, obesity is the estimated cause of 111,909 to 365,000 deaths each year.

In its statement, AACE said mounting scientific evidence indicates that obesity is a disease that must be addressed using a medical model for treatment and prevention that includes lifestyle modifications, medications and surgery together with interventions targeted to public education, behavioral change and the built environment.

The AHA also issued a statement praising the AMA’s decision to approve the resolution, noting that it will bring attention to obesity as an important risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Donna Arnett, PhD 

Donna Arnett

“Obesity is mainly caused by taking in more calories than are used up in physical activity and daily life, but other factors may also contribute to obesity including genetics, limited access to healthy foods or unsafe environment for physical activity,” Donna Arnett, PhD, president of the American Heart Association, said in the statement. “When people eat too many calories, or too much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, their blood cholesterol levels often rise. But even taking off a few pounds can provide you with cardiovascular benefits, so every step in the right direction is a step toward healthier living.”

The resolution conflicts with a report recently released by the AMA. In the report, the association cited a lack of “a single, clear, authoritative, and widely accepted definition of disease” as one reason why it is difficult to determine conclusively whether obesity is a disease state. Further, the report states, “a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity remains elusive,” noting that BMI, the current standard for defining obesity, has certain limitations.