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Obesity elevated to disease status

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Obesity has been formally recognised as a disease by the American Medical Association in a move seen to have significant implications for the way the condition is treated.

As the waistlines of developed country populations continue to swell, the AMA moved on 18 June to stop framing obesity as a public health issue and instead treat it as a disease.

Health experts hailed the decision as an important step in helping tackle obesity and the health risk associated with being overwight.

“The American Medical Association’s recognition that obesity is a disease carries a lot of clout,” Dr Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, told USA Today. “The most important aspect of the AMA decision is that the AMA is a respected representative of American medicine. Their opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity.”

According to some estimates, more than 40 per cent of American adults will be obese by 2030.

AMA Board member Dr Patrice Harris, said that “recognising obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans.”

The move to recognise obesity as a disease was accompanied by policies to ban the marketing of high stimulant and caffeine-rich drinks to adolescents, and to recognise the risks of prolonged sitting.

On the same day, the Association elected an internal medicine and infectious diseases specialist as its head.

Kentucky-based Dr Ardis Dee Hoven was installed as AMA President after being part of the Association’s leadership group for the past eight years.

Dr Hoven, who has worked at the University of Kentucky’s Bluegrass Care Clinic treating infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, is assuming the position at a difficult time for the American medical profession as it tries to navigate the implementation of Obamacare and changes brought about by steep cuts to Federal Government spending.