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Obesity Is a Disease, Rules American Medical Association

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The American Medical Association announced yesterday afternoon that it now considers obesity a disease, a decision with professional ramifications for pediatricians and policy ramifications in a number of areas.

The AMA's House of Delegates, its legislative and policymaking body, made the decision at its annual meeting in Chicago. At the very least, it's a symbolic step toward changing what many view as a self-imposed condition. But it also stands to influence research, insurance, treatment, and, of course, politics.

The real meat of the AMA decision is that it means doctors (including pediatricians) will ostensibly be obligated to push their patients harder on weight control.

"Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans," said AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris, in a press release. "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."

It's harder to see whether change will come to the school lunchroom. The continual pressure against obesity comes up against Big Food, which has the ear of many policymakers. (Remember how Congress overrode the U.S. Department of Agriculture's attempts to regulate potatoes in school lunches?) And the USDA has yet to issue new rules on lunch guidelines, despite a June 30 deadline. Labeling obesity a disease, then, like alcoholism, may be the push child health advocates need.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 17 percent of American children are obese, along with one-third of U.S. adults. While researchers don't fully understand the role of various factors in obesity—notably, genetics—research shows obesity resulting from more than just the irresistible allure of Tater Tots. The American Heart Association has labeled obesity as a metabolic disorder for years.

The AMA also adopted other measures at its meeting that support this effort, including approval of a total ban on marketing energy drinks to children under 18, and encouraging alternatives to sitting, such as stand-up desks. (Although the latter was not phrased in terms of school context, that would be interesting to see become widespread.)

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