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American Medical Association Says Obesity Is A Disease

Updated: Monday, July 29 2013, 12:16 PM EDT
CBS News) The American Medical Association has officially recognized obesity as
a disease, a decision that could change the way physicians and insurance
companies deal with the condition.

The move, announced on Tuesday, will
open up a range of medical interventions for the prevention and treatment of
obesity and changes the status of obesity from "a major public health problem"
to a disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates
that 36 percent of American adults are obese. Dr. Lou Aronne, an obesity expert
at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said medical researchers have long recognized
obesity as a disease but said the AMA's recognition and re-classification will
"have a tremendous impact on legislation in Washington [and] with insurance
companies."

As it stands, insurance policies "generally exclude obesity
treatment," Aronne said Wednesday on "CBS This Morning," which limits the
treatment of obesity-related conditions, including "diabetes, high blood
pressure, even cancers [that] are caused by obesity."

While prevention
is "key," he said, "if that doesn't work, we've got to implement treatment
programs, and we're not doing that very well."

Aronne explained that for
clinically obese patients, treatment is not as simple as eating less and
exercising more. "Once obesity is established, there are physical mechanisms
that take hold that make it very difficult for people to lose weight," he said.
"As people gain weight, damage occurs to the signalling pathways between the fat
cells, the stomach, the intestine and the brain," Aronne said. "The brain can't
tell how much food is coming in and how much fat is stored."

Medical
therapies and procedures like the lap-band or gastric bypass surgeries are
courses of treatment that may now be included in insurance coverage, based on
the AMA's decision. "Anyone who is obese will tell you they want to lose weight.
This is not a choice," Aronne said. "If people had the kind of medical options
that are available now [covered by insurance], they would take them."

©
2013 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Image Rights: Lisa Maree Williams, 2010, Getty ImagesAmerican Medical Association Says Obesity Is A Disease


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