During its annual meeting in Chicago, the American Medical Association (AMA) took an unprecedented step in public health policy and declared one-third of all Americans “diseased,” applying the label to obesity.
The announcement was not met with widespread panic or Centers for Disease Control (CDC) quarantines, but rather with health experts deliberating as to whether its classification as a disease would be effective in combating America’s obesity epidemic.
The AMA’s logic presumes that changing the definition of an already-existing physical condition may motivate individuals to seek treatment.
By classifying a self-afflicted ailment, congenital abnormality or comorbid symptom a disease, the AMA essentially eliminates case-by-case considerations of individuals who suffer from being obese.
While health experts agree that a body mass index (BMI) above 30, determined by a patient’s ratio of weight to height, is enough to warrant medical attention, attributing all occurrences of obesity to biological imbalances would standardize treatments for a differentiated condition. Moreover, the AMA’s declaration ignores an AMA report which deems the BMI standard for obesity “imprecise and not always associated with poor health outcomes,” according to ABC News.
Certain forms of obesity can be treated with stringent exercise regiments and regulated diets. Other forms of obesity are sustained through genetic predispositions for body mass or an underlying disease, requiring pharmacological or even surgical intervention.
Besides overlooking medical variations in the causes of obesity, the AMA’s decision may complicate matters further by affecting insurance policies, work and other organizational standards across America. An otherwise healthy patient surpassing the BMI index by a few tenths of a percent would be considered “diseased,” a negligible technicality that may disqualify the patient from certain insurance benefits or work-related tasks and cause unwanted psychological distress.
Worse yet, deeming obesity a full-fledged disease could open the floodgates to a myriad of fraudulent claims.
Physicians treating “obese” patients in relatively good health have the opportunity to diagnose the condition in an effort to receive insurance payments toward legitimate treatment for an illegitimate cause.
Pharmaceutical companies may join this trend, targeting “diseased” clients and seeking FDA approval for any medication that has shown promise to reduce weight. In this worst-case scenario, Americans could lose any incentive to exercise and nourish themselves properly, instead opting for pharmacological or invasive procedures to cure their newly found “diseases.”
The consensus is clear – obesity is a national epidemic. According to CDC data, nearly 36 percent of all Americans are obese and more than 69 percent are either overweight or obese. These statistics represent an alarming risk to American society and its longevity. Yet creating a uniform diagnosis for a diverse condition such as obesity can, at best, have an insignificant effect on America’s health woes and, at worst, produce a litany of underlying consequences.