New obesity label could change treatment access, attitude

In a move that has the medical world buzzing, The American Medical Association has changed its stance on obesity, officially declaring it a disease instead of a "public health issue."  The new distinction is exciting to local doctors.

"By medicalizing this physiologic problem similar to high blood pressure, I think will help change the attitudes in treating it," said Dr. Frank Greenway who is the director of the Outpatient Research Clinic Director for LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Greenway has studied obesity and its effects for decades.  He says he is actually surprised the AMA did not act sooner to distinguish obesity as a disease.  In fact, another medical group, the National Institute on Health, did so back in 1985.

"Before 1985 when the NIH declared it a disease, obesity was thought to be bad habits," said Greenway.

Years of research has revealed obesity is much more complex, resulting from a combination of genetics, hormone imbalances and even environmental factors.

However, without the disease label effective obesity treatment has been limited.

"Unless it's recognized as a disease, the insurance companies don't pay doctors to take care of it.  At this point, it's very hard for people to get help for their obesity," said Greenway.

Doctors hope the new label will mean insurance companies will begin to cover obesity treatments and medications.

In response to this story, Blue Cross Blue Shield Louisiana, one of the area's largest insurance providers, issued this statement:

"Medical staff at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana are not prepared to talk about the AMA's decision until we've had time for detailed internal discussions about whether and how it will affect our policies."

Doctors also hope that better treatment of obesity will help prevent other related diseases, like diabetes and heart disease.

Copyright 2013 WAFB. All rights reserved.