Earlier this year, the American Medical Association voted to re-classify obesity as a disease rather than a condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of adults in the United States are obese. Combine those two facts, and it can now be said that one in three Americans are ill, all with the same disease.
Critics of the new classification say the current measuring stick of obesity, body mass index, is flawed and that calling obesity a disease gives pharmaceutical companies an excuse to push weight loss pills.
"The intent of making obesity a disease is trying to shed light upon the importance having a healthy weight has on the health of every person in the country," said Michael Lim. He is a SLUCare cardiologist and the director of cardiology at Saint Louis University.
Calling obesity a disease rather than a condition or a risk factor shouldn't change the way it is combated, said Lim, but it can encourage doctors to tackle the issue more directly. Amy Moore, a nutritionist and assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University, agreed.
"I'd suggest that a lot of doctor-patient interactions don't even bring it (a patient's obesity) up," said Lim. "When we don't acknowledge the fact that someone smokes or that someone has an unhealthy weight, that is sort of a tacit approval of that."
One benefit of the new classification, said Moore, is that it encourages Medicaid and Medicare to reimburse weight loss counseling with a dietician. Medicaid and Medicare began covering Intensive Behavioral Therapy for Obesity in 2011.
"It has been shown that people who are able to receive counseling on weight loss are able to achieve that weight loss and stick with it," said Moore. "So now they will be able to come to a dietician and get that counseling."
Both Lim and Moore stressed the importance of a healthy lifestyle in overcoming obesity, while acknowledging multiple elements come into play when it comes to weight. They both also expressed hope that the attention brought to the problem of obesity by its classification as a disease might increase preventative measures---namely eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
Lim said that in his line of business he sees a lot of people motivated to change their lifestyle after the scare of having a heart attack, but it would be better if they changed their behavior earlier and didn't need that wake up call at all.
"Why wait until you're 53 and have a heart attack, why not change earlier and never have to see me after a heart attack?" said Lim.