BOSTON, Mass. - Two-thirds of Americans who overweight or obese have a higher risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, clogged arteries, irregular heart rhythm and stroke. Earlier this week, the American Medical Association decided to classify obesity as a disease.
"It really isn't about losing weight," Patrice Harris, MD is with the American Medical Association said. "We want to reduce and prevent type 2 diabetes. We want to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease.
Obesity so interrelated to both of those."
The Obesity Society is among organizations that have been calling for a disease designation. Theodore Kyle said the change is an important milestone. "There's all kind of research out there that says obesity, which affects a third of the population, is something that people don't routinely discuss with their doctors until it starts resulting in things like diabetes and heart disease and joint disease."
The costly and serious chronic conditions mean many large employers have been taking steps to fight obesity. According to benefit consulting firm Mercer, more than a third offer weight-fighting programs. About ten percent offer incentives for reaching wellness goals. More than half cover lap-band and bariatric obesity-reduction surgery under insurance benefits.
Paul Fronstin with EBRI explained, "They'll continue doing that because they're looking at different ways in which to control health care costs and this is just one of many ways in which I see them trying to control their costs."
Caroline Apovian is the Director of the Weight Loss and Nutrition Center at Boston Medical Center. "Yes, they cover the lap band and most insurance companies cover bariatric surgery but that's after the patient has already gained at least 100 pounds over the course of their lives," she said.
Apovian says the new distinction will allow doctors to take medical steps before a patient experiences costly complications. She also believes it will make it easier for doctors to discuss with patients.
"I think this is a necessary step to prompt insurance companies to treat this disease earlier," she said.