Obesity a Disease? How Fitness Professionals Can Help

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By Dr. Georgene Collins

The blogosphere is abuzz since the American Medical Association made a landmark decision to label obesity a disease in June. Although new for the AMA, other professional organizations previously considered obesity a disease. For example, Medicare removed language from its operations manual in 2004 that obesity was not an illness.

However, it is uncertain what prompted the recent decision. The timing of the decision is aligned with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2014. Although only 23 percent of doctors and medical students comprise membership, the AMA remains a powerful lobbying group.This decision opens the door for scientific anti-obesity treatment for Medicare patients. Furthermore, the Obesity Alliance declared obesity a disease in its 2008 Perspectives update. While not the trailblazers, the AMA's decision presents an opportunity for doctors to screen and treat patients in the fight against obesity. With two-thirds of the population at risk of weight-related complications, the AMA's decision sets the expectations for doctors to treat patients through surgery, medication and other scientific services.

Fitness professionals may wonder what impact, if any, this decision will have on their future. Clearly, there are social and financial implications of this decision. Financially, this decision reinforces the need for wellness and prevention measures. Ideally, this decision will open payment to doctors and allied fitness professionals for prevention measures against obesity and its complications.

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Obesity is the leading cause of many diseases and leads to complications of many disorders. The goal of the disease label is to enable doctors to treat obesity before these other diseases and complications arise. Socially this decision helps to remove the stigma associated with excess weight. The stigma often leads individuals to hide or avoid sharing details of their weight problem with professionals.

Fitness professionals are positioned to help clients in two unique ways. From the financial perspective, undoubtedly, insurance companies and Medicare will push harder for prevention, weight reduction and weight management programs. Increasing knowledge and certifications in these areas give fitness professionals unique partnering opportunities. Potential partnering opportunities include doctors and insurance providers for wellness and prevention programs.

From the social perspective, clients will comfortably discuss the obstacles to reaching and achieving an ideal weight. Fitness professionals can intervene and use empathy to guide the obese client through lifestyle goals and weight loss.

Overall, the decision is positive. The current statistics show obesity is complicated. Clearly, there are many obstacles to achieving a healthy weight, and the success rate to maintain weight loss remains low. The major decision by the AMA provides opportunities for fitness professionals to expand their services to the medical and insurance communities.

Fitness professionals have long coached and motivated clients to an ideal weight. The decision by the AMA provides fitness professionals with the support of nearly 220,000 credible professionals. By their true nature, fitness professionals will continue to do what they do best. That is to teach, motivate and support healthy lifestyle habits for clients to achieve optimal health.

Georgene Collins, Ph.D., RN, CPHQ, is a registered nurse and health coach who teaches women weight management strategies. Dr. Collins, once obese, has maintained her 145-pound weight loss since 2005. She maintains certification in nutrition, weight management and wellness through the American Fitness Professionals and Associates. You can learn more about weight management at her website, Weight Management for Women.

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