The American Medical Association (AMA) announced last week that they are officially declaring obesity a disease. According to the AMA, obesity is a significant public health problem, causing 112,000 preventable deaths each year. By 2008, 34% of adults and 17% of children were considered obese, the prevalence having increased significantly between 1980 and 2008.
Supporters and opponents alike have expressed their views on this announcement. Those who disagree with the AMA’s decision to regard obesity as a disease say that this will cause more harm than good to those individuals who are fighting obesity themselves. Hank Cardello’s article in Forbes stated that this would happen, in part, by taking away a sense of personal responsibility from those who are obese. In addition, he said, the food industry’s recent progress in labeling foods and promoting healthier choices may suffer as they defend themselves in legal battles linking their foods to obesity. Their attempts at helping people with healthier choices may be interrupted or discouraged.
Supporters of the AMA’s decision include Lee Kaplan, MD, director of the Obesity, Metabolism and Nutrition Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital and professor at Harvard Medical School. In his Forbes article, Dr. Kaplan described obesity as a complex health situation whose subtypes and causes vary, as do effective treatments for each individual. The decision to identify obesity as a disease, according to Kaplan, will help those who need it to access various health interventions that they need to make healthful changes. Dr. Kaplan discussed obesity as a condition that can be chronic, progressive, and cause subsequent health problems and disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, sleep apnea, some cancers, as well as other conditions, increase as weight increases. Regardless of the way in which obesity is categorized, prevention and treatment are critical in improving public health and preventing subsequent and related disease.