Earlier this week, nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children found themselves suffering an official medical condition that requires treatment, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).
After much debate, the AMA voted to officially declare obesity a disease, effectively classifying 78 million American adults and 12 million children as having a medical condition, reported the L.A. Times.
The status came down after members of the AMA’s House of Delegates debated whether the action would do more harm in furthering stigma around the condition, or would help affected patients get useful treatment.
“Obese is sort of another term for extremely or more severely overweight,” said Simone French, Ph.D., professor of Epidemiology & Community Health in the School of Public Health. “The overweight/obesity line is really a continuum, and health risks increase with increasing degrees of overweight and obesity.”
Obesity as a disease is measured by Body Mass Index (BMI), including:
- For an adult, his or her BMI is 30 or higher.
- For a man 5 ft. 11 inches, he would need to weigh 215 lb.
- For a woman, 5 ft. 5 inches, she would need to weigh 180 lbs.
Previously, being overweight meant you had a BMI of 27 or higher. In the 1990′s that number shifted to 25 or higher. Then, such as now, a significant portion of the population was defined as “overweight” almost overnight.
The definition for obesity is based on how risk factors like blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes track with increasing body mass index, diseases that are often directly related to a person’s weight.
However, calling obesity a disease has been controversial. Some believe it may cause more harm by categorizing people as “diseased,” while others believe it validates obesity as a serious health issue that needs the full weight of health care resources behind it to address the problem.
In French’s opinion, obesity being labeled a disease will help give clinicians more tools to discuss this topic with their patients.
“Obesity was not always documented as a true problem, and it wasn’t until other health issues emerged that clinicians could document the underlying health problem,” she said.
Will this impact obesity related diseases and the obesity epidemic? Only time will tell.
“To me, the obesity epidemic is population-wide and has environmental causes,” said French. “The most effective solution will most likely be prevention, brought about through policy and environmental changes.”
To learn your BMI, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI calculator here.