Steven R. Smith, MD

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July 01, 2013

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Hello. I'm Dr. Steven Smith, Professor at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in Orlando, Florida. I am here in Chicago at the American Diabetes Association's Scientific Sessions.

A very interesting topic has been at the forefront of the blogosphere and all over the Internet in the past couple of days, and that has to do with the American Medical Association's (AMA) declaration of obesity as a disease. However, the AMA is not the first society to declare that obesity is a disease. That statement has been out there from other organizations in the past. However, to have an organization like the AMA say that obesity is a disease has raised the level of conversation surrounding this issue.

I would like to talk about why that is. Why are people so interested in obesity as a disease, and what does that mean for us as physicians when we go into the clinic?

This debate has been going on for a long time, and in my mind it is really an academic debate. When we go in the clinics and see obese patients, they don't care whether it's called a disease or not, and I don't think that most physicians do, either. This is a public health issue in many ways. In the current epidemic, one third of Americans are overweight and one third are obese. That is the reality. If we say that obesity is not a disease, that is a call to inaction. It means that we can blame it on gluttony, slothfulness, and a lack of willpower, and I don't think our patients in the clinic need to hear that one more time. What they do need to hear is that their physicians care about them as people, that we understand what they are dealing with in terms of their weight and how they struggle not only with the cosmetic or societal issues, but also the health consequences of obesity. That is the take-home message for me from this entire discussion. Now that the AMA has declared that obesity is a disease, we can get past that debate and move into the action that is needed to take care of our patients.

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