"This classification changes the way physicians and the medical community will talk about obesity with their patients," she adds. "For instances, physicians previously had conversations with their patients about treating obesity's health implications, but this designation helps physicians to talk about obesity in and of itself."
Among the obstacles are different views of what constitutes obesity, especially in terms of body mass index. While the AMA believes a body mass index of 30 or greater should be considered obese, CMS holds to a different number, 35.
There have been major disagreements within the AMA itself, with the organization's Council on Science and Public Health voting against obesity being defined as a disease, in part because of various measures trying to define it.
"While recognizing the important public health implications of the obesity epidemic, the council was reluctant to identify obesity as a disease," Harris says. "Rather, they opted to reaffirm some important AMA obesity policies." The AMA's House of Delegates acknowledged the Council on Science and Public Health's position, she adds.
During the debate on the resolution, "physicians in the (House of Delegates) considered all the information in front of them, including the council report and testimony presented by various physicians, state and specialty societies," Harris says. "The council supports the view that the most important task moving forward is for the nation to do a better job of addressing the obesity epidemic."