By Geri Johnston, RN, MSN, CBN
Certified Bariatric Nurse, MUSC Bariatric Surgery Center
There was an announcement made from the American Medical Association (AMA) meeting in Chicago this week that obesity is now defined as a disease. But what does that mean for the providers and staff who works with obese individuals, and what does that mean for the patients?
From the point of view of those of us working every day with obese patients, we say “it’s about time.” We have known for quite a while this is a chronic disease state, associated with many co-morbid conditions including obstructive sleep apnea, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and many other diseases. When patients who are obese lose significant weight, these diseases either improve or resolve over 80 percent of the time. Everyone agrees that diabetes, sleep apnea, and hypertension are diseases, but now the cause is finally recognized as a disease.
Having obesity recognized as a disease will also improve insurance coverage for treatment. Currently, many insurance plans either don’t cover or cover only certain treatment, medication, or procedures. If a patient is suffering from any of the diseases listed above, they are covered. But having the treatment for obesity covered will help patients access the care they need before these co-morbid diseases manifest themselves. If we can treat obesity before the patient develops sleep apnea, diabetes, and hypertension, treatment for severe obesity, including weight loss surgery, is safer and recovery faster than for someone with the added disease burden.
Finally, I hope having obesity defined as a disease will help encourage obese individuals to seek care. The condition of obesity is a disease, not a lack of will power or just laziness. Obesity is a multi-factorial disease with many causes including psychological, genetic and socioeconomic. It’s time we treat it as such.