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Obesity is Declared a Disease by the American Medical Association yet Americans are Living Longer

(PRWEB) July 30, 2013

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study in 2010 that indicated adults over the age of 60 were more likely to be obese than their younger counterparts. Although obesity appears to be on the rise in the United States, Americans are living longer than ever. Even seniors with obesity appear to be enjoying unprecedented longevity despite being obese.

This is surprising to many people because it is widely understood that obesity is a major contributor to ill health. It is linked to a variety of serious conditions including stroke, diabetes, coronary disease, high blood pressure, respiratory problems, and various forms of cancer. Besides contributing to other diseases, obesity is gaining recognition as a disease in its own right, and the American Medical Association (AMA) declared in June, 2013 that obesity is a disease.

A person having a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or higher is considered obese. There are different levels of obesity ranging from Level 1, indicated by a BMI between 30 and 34.9, to Level 3, with a BMI of 40 or higher.

Although body mass index alone does not always provide an accurate picture of health, for the most part it is a good indicator of how healthy an individual is likely to be. Costs associated with obesity are significant, with annual estimates often in the $150 billion to $200 billion range for the nation as a whole. This amount averages to $500 to $600 per American, and it takes into account both direct costs associated with diagnosis, treatment, and prevention and indirect costs of obesity such as loss of workplace productivity.

About one third – approximately 100 million Americans – are considered obese. This number is spread fairly evenly across all age groups. While obesity among adults is a serious concern because of the strain it places on American health care resources and economic productivity, many observers believe childhood obesity is even more serious a problem. Although the obesity rate among US children is lower than the adult obesity rate, the gap appears to be closing and there is fear that today’s obese children will develop obesity-related complications at a younger age than earlier generations of obese Americans did.

Obesity treatment for Americans of all ages is often hindered by the view that obesity is the result of choices and not any inherent physical causes. Medical students normally receive little training in obesity, and doctor advice to obese patients often consists of little more than the generic instruction to exercise and eat right. The minimal time a physician spends with a patient during a typical doctor visit does not lend itself to any insightful understanding of what an obese patient may really require, or even all the symptoms he or she may be suffering. The instruction to eat right and exercise is usually sound—whether a patient is obese or not—but it often falls short.

Elderly Americans can face additional challenges when it comes to treating obesity. Any obesity treatment for older Americans has to weigh the possible benefits of treatment against any possible complications that may arise as a result of treatment. For example, leading institutions including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have advised that any senior weight loss program should not result in insufficient intake of important minerals and nutrients. Bone health is a concern for many elderly people, and a diet that reduces calcium intake may be harmful to an older person.

Those are the problems associated with obesity – particularly among older Americans. So why is it that seniors, despite having an obesity rate unparalleled in history, are living longer than ever?

The answer seems to be that, while obesity is indeed on the rise, so are advancements in senior health care, and these advancements can be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to minimizing some of the negative symptoms and effects of obesity. A 2011 Economist article titled Long Live the Fat American begins by painting a bleak picture: “AMERICA'S obesity epidemic is so called for a reason. Roughly one in three adults is obese. In 2008 close to 25 million Americans were diabetic, according to a study published on June 25th.”

From there, the article declares, “Nevertheless, Americans are living longer than ever.”

The reason: “America's most rotund citizens benefit from bypass surgery and cholesterol-lowering statins. The prevalence of high cholesterol and blood pressure among the obese in 1999-2000 was about half what it was in the early 1960s.”

Advancements in senior health insurance are also given credit for keeping elderly people who are obese healthier and long-lived. Medicare preventive services aimed at obesity are available at no cost to Medicare recipients with a BMI of 30 or more, and are known to have saved lives.

Currently, Medicare also pays for other treatments related to obesity when weight loss or other obesity treatment is necessary for treating another condition such as diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease. Even procedures such as gastric bypass surgery may be covered by Medicare when they are recommended by a doctor for treatment of a serious condition other than obesity. Medicare supplement plans can make such procedures affordable by covering Medicare out-of-pocket costs, and the availability of such care is just one more reason American seniors with obesity are finding it easier to live longer than ever.

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