Obesity is officially a disease, the American Medical Association declares

The American Medical Association’s decision to recognize obesity as a disease could boost sales and continued development of prescription diet drugs, according to Forbes.

The move effectively defines 78 million American adults and 12 million children as having a medical condition that requires treatment, the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” AMA board member Patrice Harris, M.D., said in a statement. “The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity.”

While the AMA’s decision has no legal authority, it is expected to change how insurance companies cover obesity drugs, surgery and counseling.  It could also open up a wider range of treatment options for obese patients who may also have related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancers and disabilities, the New York Times reports.

The new ruling goes against a study released  just last year by the AMA’s Council on Science and Public Health. The council said obesity should not be considered a disease mainly because the measure usually used to define obesity, the body mass index, is simplistic and flawed.

The resolution released Tuesday argued that obesity was a “multimetabolic and hormonal disease state” that leads to unfavorable outcomes like cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, the New York Times reported.

Treatment of obesity-related illnesses drives up the nation's medical bill by more than $150 billion a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Projected increases in the obesity rate could boost that figure by an additional $550 billion over the next 20 years, according to a recent Duke University study cited by the Los Angeles Times.

Currently, 2.3 million Americans are estimated to be overweight or obese, and half of Americans could be obese by 2040 according to some projections, Dr. Jeffrey I. Mechanick, president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologist, told the New York Daily News.

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