American Medical Association: Obesity a disease

Author: , Reporter,
Published: Jun 18 2013 08:00:00 PM EDT   Updated On: Jun 19 2013 05:50:07 PM EDT

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, experts say.

Now, the American Medical Association has officially labeled it a disease.

For 97 million Americans like Mary Ann Byatt, of Center Valley, losing weight was a losing battle.

"I had been overweight my entire life since I was a little kid," said Byatt, who was morbidly obese.

Byatt turned to St. Luke's Hospital's surgical weight loss program for help. She had gastric bypass surgery 18 months ago and has lost 170 pounds.

"I was fortunate my insurance company did take care of it, but they took care of it because I had underlying medical issues," said Byatt.

Not all insurance companies pay for bariatric surgery, but now that the American Medical Association has officially labeled obesity a disease, doctors said they think that will change.

"I think it's about time," said Dr. Leonardo Claros, St. Luke's, adding that obesity is no different than other diseases and often causes them.

For the morbidly obese, bariatric surgery is the only life-saving option, but it's not a magic bullet, Claros said.

"A bariatric patient will be successful only if they are enrolled in a multi-disciplinary,  well-established program," said Claros.

The new classification will likely result in a spike in insurance costs as more companies start covering it, Claros said. Those costs, however, will eventually come down, he said, because insurers will be spending less on other diseases.

"I was type two diabetic, and that is no longer part of my life. I am off all of my medications, everything. I am on no blood pressure medication," said Byatt.

Since her surgery, Byatt said her life has changed. She said anyone who's morbidly obese needs to do homework, find an accredited program and stick with it.

Not only is she eating right and working out, Byatt is also going to counseling and attending a bariatric support group. She said it's hard work, but if it means living longer and staying healthy, it's worth it.