The American Medical Association, the nation's largest physician organization, decided Tuesday to recognize obesity as a disease that requires a range of medical interventions for treatment and prevention.
The decision was made at the group's annual meeting in Chicago.
Experts in obesity have struggled for years to have obesity recognized as a disease that deserves medical attention and insurance coverage as do other diseases. Previously the AMA and others have referred to obesity as "a major public health problem."
"The American Medical Association's recognition that obesity is a disease carries a lot of clout," says Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "The most important aspect of the AMA decision is that the AMA is a respected representative of American medicine. Their opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity."
About a third of adults in this country are obese, which is roughly 35 or more pounds over a healthy weight. A third of children and teens are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of many other diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.
Patrice Harris, an AMA board member, said in a statement, "Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans."
If obesity continues to grow, about 42% of Americans may end up obese by 2030, according to a projection from researchers with RTI International, a non-profit organization in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park.
Those extra pounds rack up billions of dollars in weight-related medical bills. It costs about $1,400 more a year to treat an obese patient compared with a person at a healthy weight, research shows.