06/26/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2013

Obesity Is a Disease: Not Easy Medicine for All to Swallow

The question of whether obesity is a disease has long been debated.

Last week the American Medical Association (AMA) weighed in by formally designating obesity as a disease that requires a wide range of treatments. In doing so, the AMA went against the recommendations of it's own Council on Science and Public Health, who just last year stated that obesity should not be considered a disease, since the primary measure -- using one's BMI (Body Mass Index) -- was oversimplified and flawed. With divisions such as these, there's no wonder why the driving question remains: Is obesity itself a disease or a condition?

With more than 35 percent of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children and teens suffering, something has to be done to halt these ever-growing statistics -- NOW -- before it further destroys our health care system and our future generations.

The AMA and proponents of their decision believe that in classifying obesity as a disease it will assist the medical community in tackling the complexity of issues that accompany obesity -- including ways physicians will focus on the condition, how insurers will deal with coverage and what funding might become available to researchers and set aside by governments.

On the flip side, opponents contend that using the "one size fits all" method of BMI is not a reliable indicator and therefore can easily misplace an individual in the "overweight or obese range," in turn categorizing them as "sick." The danger with such a blanket diagnosis is it can lead doctors and their patients to seek quick fixes (since they would most likely now be covered by insurance) such as surgery and medications -- ignoring the important health, fitness and lifestyle changes imperative in reducing this epidemic.

Somewhere in the middle lies the truth, especially when analyzing the web of complexities associated with obesity:

1) Genetics
2) The Standard American Diet (appropriately known as SAD, which alone speaks volumes)
3) Behaviors
4) Education
5) Perceptions
6) Socio-economics

Having witnessed it -- whether it's on The Biggest Loser, Dr. Oz or one of the numerous magazine cover stories that readily grace newsstands across the country -- we all know how the modification of an individual's behavior through education, nutrition and fitness can produce dramatic and positive lifelong changes. These results have helped to shatter many of the stigmas associated with being obese, raising the self-esteem of those who have long been ostracized and criticized and curtailing diseases directly related to obesity. By branding it as a disease, are we running the risk of attaching new negatives to already struggling individuals? That is yet to be seen, as is what impact the AMA's proclamation might actually have on the fight to end obesity.

In the meantime, proven successes -- like those previously demonstrated -- should continue to serve as the jumping off point for doctors, patients, insurers, governments and fund-raisers about where to first invest their time, money and efforts regardless of which side of the debate they are on.

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