AMA calls obesity a ‘disease’ after acquitting a primary culprit

Posted by
July 2, 2013

When the American Medical Association (AMA) declared obesity to be a “disease” last month, it not only made headlines, it made a lot of people really angry.  One reason is because, as it turns out, the AMA’s new classification, which could potentially affect more than a third of U.S. adults and 17 percent of children, also coincided with the release of the new diet drug Belviq, leading many to believe the “disease” designation was no coincidence.

And then there’s what happened a few years ago when the AMA passed up an opportunity to identify a primary culprit in this new “disease,” and thus do something far more meaningful in the battle against obesity.  But more on that in a moment.

Formerly referred to by the AMA as a “condition,” “concern” or “disorder, obesity was reclassified as a disease by a vote of over fifty percent of the organization’s membership. However, its own experts, the AMA Council on Science and Public Health, disagreed with the new designation. “Without a single, clear, authoritative and widely accepted definition of disease,” the council said in a report, “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether or not obesity is a medical disease…”

But what exactly does this mean? Certainly, if the AMAs own expert committee can’t come to terms with all this, how are the rest of us supposed to interpret it?

Experts who have ‘weighed in’ on the issue have also sharply disagreed with the new characterization:

  • Marilyn Wann, author of FAT!SO?: “The AMA seems eager to expand weight-loss treatment and convince insurers to reimburse for it. Big Pharma has two new weight-loss drugs out, with users losing at most only 10 percent of their body weight at a monthly cost of $100 or more and possible health complications.”
  • Dr. Keith Ablow, psychiatrist: “This decision is another example of inventing illnesses — a favorite pastime of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) – and another step towards eroding people’s autonomy and making them passive participants in their health.”
  • David Katz, M.D., director, Yale Prevention Research Center: “The notion that obesity is a disease will inevitably invite a reliance on pharmacotherapy and surgery to fix what is best addressed through improvements in the use of our feet and forks…”

The AMA “disease” vote spawned the Twitter #IamNotADisease, and promopted Wann to launch a petition at Change.org, American Medical Association: Stop defining “obesity” [sic] as a disease!

While the conversation continues online about what this all boils down to, it appears that even the AMA itself isn’t sure. An article at the AMA website asking “What’s next…?” doesn’t appear to answer any questions, but merely features some vague quotes from medical professionals such as this one from Jeffrey I. Mechanick,  president of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists: “Many of us believe that this is going to propel a critical effect so that we will see a lot of action.”

While the AMA has everybody talking about its new “disease” designation of obesity, a few years ago the group was dealing with another aspect of the obesity issue – a resolution on the table calling for foods containing high fructose corn syrup to carry a warning that they could cause obesity. Introduced by the International Medical Graduates Section at the 2007 AMA meeting, the resolution asked:

That our AMA urge the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to require the food industry to use non-fructose sweeteners and limit the use of high fructose syrups in their products; and That our AMA urge the FDA and USDA to require the food industry to clearly label products containing high fructose syrups with an indication that “this product contains high fructose syrup; excessive intake of high fructose syrup may lead to obesity.”

“This report reviews the chemical properties and health effects of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in comparison to other added caloric sweeteners and evaluates the potential impact of restricting the use of fructose-containing sweeteners, including the use of warning labels on foods that contain high fructose syrups.”

While the resolution didn’t pass, the very fact that such a proposal was in the works, and how it got there, is amazing all on its own.

As told by Clinical Nutritionist Byron Richards at his Wellness Resources site, this “pivotal moment” came about as “a movement withing the AMA ranks…(from) doctors who graduated from medical schools outside the U.S. and Canada.” Without regard for how the Corn Refiners Association and other influential agribusiness organizations might react, Richards says, “the resolution was submitted with extensive science supporting the fact that high fructose corn syrup is metabolized in a way that promotes obesity.” (Read Richards blog here).

But the AMA, noted Richards, “sided with the Corn Refiners Association and against the public health” by voting in defense of high fructose corn syrup, which he maintained made “its entire organization look like a ship of fools.”

“Let’s not forget,” Richards added, that “the AMA was directly responsible for the promotion of smoking in this country, taking in large amounts of ad revenue (by) actively promoting its safety and glamor for many years.”

Yes, we’ve been there and done that – high fructose corn syrup needs to go.”