American Medical Association Classifies Obesity as a Disease

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The American Medical Association is an extensive network of doctors and medical students that sets "standards and policy for the medical profession." Though they have no legal jurisdiction, the group is influential in its decision-making. This week they made headlines by joining many other health and policy organizations in recognizing obesity as a disease .

The AMA's reasons for classifying obesity as a disease are multiple, and stem from the physiological and emotional burdens often experienced by obese individuals. In their announcement, they recognize several symptoms, such as "impaired functioning of appetite dysregulation," "endocrine disruption," "blood pressure elevation," and "sleep apnea and low self esteem," as key defining features of obesity. These conditions, as well as the high rate of obesity in the US and the fact that several other key organizations, such as the Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, and World Health Organization, already recognize obesity as a disease, led the AMA to their announcement.

There has been a mixed response to this classification. The AMA's own Council on Science and Public Health announced last year that they would not classify obesity as a disease, given that the Body Mass Index scale used to measure obesity is flawed and generalized. Other opponents argue that some obese individuals are healthy and do not require extensive medical treatment. Disease classification, they argue, may not result in positive (or any, for that matter) health outcomes for those individuals.

But proponents argue that classifying obesity as a disease will allow obese individuals to more easily receive treatment and coverage from insurers. With one in three adult Americans classified as obese, and another third overweight, coverage for weight loss programs or drugs could be life-changing for many.

The issue raises another question—how is obesity stigma related to its categorization as a disease? Though perhaps helpful from an insurance perspective, it's possible that classifying obesity as a disease may further entrench stigma against those living with obesity. It could eliminate the limited nuance with which we talk about weight and health, lumping together all overweight people into a category of "disease" without looking more closely at their health conditions or lifestyle choices.

What do you think readers? Will this AMA decision have an impact on the way we view and treat obesity?

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her other work can be found at her website.