Obesity: America's newest disease

FRESNO, Calif.

Dr. Keith Boone is a metabolic and bariatric surgeon at Advanced Laparoscopic Surgery Associates in Fresno. He says doctors in his field have recognized obesity as an epidemic for 15 years -- when the National Institute of Health classified it as a disease in 1998. And hopes the AMA's new stand will lead to more awareness and access to obesity treatments.

"Our goal as bariatric or weight surgeons is the metabolic side of it," said Dr. Keith Boone. "We look at the surgeries as a way to treat diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol so forth and the weight loss is a fantastic side effect of it, not the other way around."

But not all doctors agree. Immunologist and Pediatrician Bill Ebelling is concerned the new label will remove personal responsibility among patients -- and lead to new drug development and widespread prescribing of weight-loss medications.

"It is a major problem, it needs to be evaluated," said Dr. Ebbeling. "I'm glad they are addressing it, but not with the government quick fix stuff. We need to have it studied, come up with good things and look at the diets."

But one person we talked with - argued the new designation creates a new sense of urgency.

Megan McGoey of Fresno said, "I think when people here the word disease it will be more serious to them and be more serious about their health and take care of themselves better."

Which could boost support for prevention programs, like physical education and healthier options at school lunches. But one thing is clear, the AMA believes recognizing obesity as a disease will change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue. An issue now affecting one in three Americans.

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