AMA's obesity stance reflects new realities

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The move by the American Medical Association Tuesday to recognize obesity as a disease has touched off the usual debate over whether it's actually a disease or a character flaw.

The same arguments have raged over a range of afflictions -- alcohol, illegal or prescription drug abuse, smoking. Yes, many can be "cured" by simply abstaining, but that denies the fact that many of us are predisposed to fall victim to the "disease" and fails to acknowledge the effects a problem like obesity has on society.

According a widely cited estimate, obesity costs America $190 billion annually for health care and lost productivity.

The Campaign to End Obesity says the problem costs $44.7 billion for inpatient services, $45.2 billion for non-inpatient services, $69.3 billion for pharmaceutical services and $146.6 billion across all services.

The group says the total economic cost of overweight and obesity in the United States and Canada, caused by medical costs, excess mortality and disability, is about $300 billion per year -- $80 billion for overweight and approximately $220 billion for obesity.

It costs about $1,400 more a year to treat an obese patient compared to a person at a healthy weight, according to research.

About a third of adults in this country are obese, or 35 or more pounds over a healthy weight. A third of children and teens are overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of many other diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer.

At the current trend, about 42 percent of Americans may end up obese by 2030.

We have seen many efforts to reduce obesity in children, such as removing soda and sugary snacks from schools, and calls for more exercise among young people.

We like to think that our personal habits are our own business, and we personally pay the price for neglecting exercise, overindulgence or substance abuse.

But efforts aimed at obesity, and all other types of preventable disease, take on new urgency with the advent of Obamacare.

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