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CMA recognizes obesity as a disease

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has declared obesity to be a chronic medical disease requiring enhanced research, treatment and prevention efforts.

At the recent meeting of the CMA Board of directors, overwhelming support was given to a resolution to this effect that had been referred to the Board for consideration from the August General Council meeting.

“It is important for health care providers to recognize obesity as a disease so preventive measures can be put in place and patients can receive the appropriate treatment,” said CMA President Cindy Forbes.

“This move by the CMA speaks to the importance of addressing obesity and dealing with the stigma that is often associated with the condition.”

“We need to strongly alter the course of the problem,” said Board member Dr. Adam Steacie who brought the issue forward.

He said recognizing obesity as a disease may precipitate a shift in thinking of obesity as just a lifestyle choice to a medical disease with an obligation to treat it as other diseases. Steacie acknowledged that there is divided opinion as to whether obesity should be considered a disease but said it meets the definition because it decreases life expectancy and impairs normal functioning of the body; also, it can be caused by genetic factors.

Several other prominent medical and health organizations, including the American Medical Association, have declared obesity a chronic disease.

The resolution was referred from General Council in part because of concerns about the limitations of using body mass index (BMI) as the measure for diagnosing obesity.

Steacie said BMI is a useful operational definition for obesity but should not be used as the defining characteristic of the disease. He also noted that in the case of individuals who are very obese, issues of definition and measurement are not relevant.

“We should continue to advocate for effective public policy, education and awareness to prevent obesity,” Steacie said, “(but) we must also provide better care and treatment. Declaring obesity a chronic disease can help both of these efforts.”

The first World Obesity Day will be held on October 11.

Forward any comments about this article to: cmanews@cma.ca.