Declaring obesity a disease will have impact

  • Thursday, July 11, 2013

In mid-June, the American Medical Association voted to declare obesity a disease. Here,
Dr. Neil McDevitt talks about the importance of the AMA’s decision. His practice, Coastal Carolina Bariatric Center in Summerville, helps people who are obese make lifelong changes through surgery and comprehensive support services. 
What was your reaction to the AMA’s declaration that obesity is a disease? 
I’m not surprised at all. It’s been something that we have been promoting in our informational seminars for over the last two years. The first slide of my program actually is that obesity is a life-threatening chronic disease. When you look at the cause for most of the medical conditions that we deal with, particularly diabetes, hypertension, cholesterol, we know that obesity is a source for many of these problems. I’m thrilled that we are finally recognizing that obesity is truly a disease with clear genetic and neurochemical components behind it. The research is very clear that a lot of people have a predisposition toward obesity. This is a medical problem, and that’s why the AMA’s declaration is so important.  
The flip side is that we do have a responsibility to change our lifestyle. Our approach at Coastal Carolina Bariatric Center has always been to address the fundamental causes of obesity, through movement and changing people’s relationship with food, in addition to medical therapy when necessary. But you can’t take personal responsibility out of the equation, and that’s what opponents have been afraid will happen.
So how does this change things for patients?
The most important thing is that it removes the stigma. A doctor can speak in the office with a patient about obesity without it being a personal commentary. Now, we’re talking about a disease. We’re talking about your high blood pressure, we’re talking about your diabetes and we’re talking about your obesity.
A lot of the perceptions in medicine are that the obese see talk about weight as a personal attack instead of seeing it as we do, as a risk factor. So in my opinion this kind of clears that up. Now we can feel free to talk about this medical condition without the fog or the air of a personal assault. Anything that facilitates communication between a patient and a doctor is only good.
How else does the AMA’s decision change things?
Well hopefully we can see expanded insurance coverage not just for the bariatric surgery but for medical management and also for counseling. Right now very few providers will reimburse doctors for providing counseling on obesity. So hopefully this will really expand the coverage and availability of our patients to get help.
How quickly do you think this might sway insurers?
That would be purely speculative. I’m not sure. There are so many changes going on in health care right now. I don’t know anyone who can predict anything aside from what’s going on today.
So this is not something that necessarily forces insurance companies to do things differently, but might push them in that direction.
Correct. Frequently what the American Medical Association has dictated has ultimately affected policy. It was the AMA’s declaration that tobacco was the No. 1 cause of preventable death that ultimately led to a lot of the changes, as far as coverage, by insurance companies for tobacco cessation programs to help patients quit smoking.
To learn more about Coastal Carolina Bariatric Center, or sign up for an information seminar, call 843-875-8994.

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