Medical experts react to new obesity label - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Medical experts react to new obesity label

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It's an issue that's been debated for years, but now there's a decision. The American Medical Association (AMA) has labeled obesity as a disease.

It's a topic local medical experts are wrestling with.

"Some people do have a condition," says Dr. Ken Elek, family physician.

But he says putting the "disease" label on obesity is complicated. "Sometimes it seems our society is more worried about preventing the consequences of a behavior than actually altering the behavior itself because altering the behavior itself is much more difficult."

He says a lot of factors play into obesity. Sometimes it's genetic or a patient has a gland problem, but that's not always the case. "To say that now you have to provide some treatment other than you need to exercise or watch your diet in order to treat this disease known as obesity, when it's very clear that this person is obese because they sit and eat and don't do anything else."

While Elek says labeling obesity may become a crutch for some, Memorial Hospital Dietician, Shannon Purcell says the change will be positive. "It really gives us more of the power and control over obesity treatment."

She says calling obesity a disease means more insurance companies will recognize treatment. Physicians may also be more likely to refer patients to a dietician. "Some of these preventative services that dieticians offer aren't being utilized, but now that the medical community will accept obesity as a singular disease on it's own, this gives us more responsibility into the treatment."

She says too often a patient is only referred to a dietician as a last resort, or once the obesity leads to another illness, like a heart disease or diabetes. "I think this will uphold our profession within the medical community."

And she says this new label won't be a crutch if people change their thinking. "Even if it is a disease, there's something I can do about it."

According to the AMA, obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or higher. Currently over one third of U.S. adults fit into this category.

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