Treating the New Disease that Affects One-Third of Americans

The AMA now classifies obesity as a disease, and new approaches to fighting it are shaping up

Obesity among Americans is increasing so quickly that the American Medical Association recently voted to classify the condition as a disease. This is a major view shift in how we ordinarily view obesity— from a matter of willpower and looks to a matter of public health.  From this new perspective, more than a third of American adults have an illness that needs treatment.  

According to a recent post in the New York Times Well blog, doctors are preparing to see more patients for obesity, but they aren't the only ones. Personal trainers and nutritionists also work with obese patients looking to lose weight and adopt healthier lifestyles.  Some of these professionals hope that the new perspective will give more Americans the nudge they need to get started in the difficult task of changing their habits.  

Meaghan Shea, Education Coordinator at Focus Personal Training Institute, thinks the change will help motivate people where education has failed.  Most people know their bad habits, she said.

“The problem isn't lack of education,” Shea. “Most people know it's not healthy to have a sedentary lifestyle.”  What they need, she believes, is a longer term comittment of professional time and advice to help them change.  

Doctors have not treated obesity as an illness per se because the AMA did not classify it as a disease, and because preventative and wellness care were not covered by insurance, the major funding source for doctors, in the past.  Also, obesity is not a condition that can be cured in one or two short appointments, like the flu.

Dietician Maria Ankrom said nutritionists are used to taking a longer-term approach to their work because they see clients more often, and typcially spend more time with them.

“Many doctors only have 15 minutes with the patient when they need to address a multitude of issues —weight being just one of them,” said Ankrom. “Dietitians get to spend an entire hour with their patients once a week focusing on diet and nutrition.”


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