The American Medical Association has adopted policy that recognizes obesity as a disease, a step that the association hopes will help focus more attention on treatment and prevention efforts, and that some suggest may lead to greater acceptance by insurance providers to cover treatment.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of U.S. adults can be classified as obese, defined as having a body mass index of 30 kg/m² or higher. At this point, nearly 17% of children 2 to 19 years of age are also obese.

Obesity is associated with numerous health risks, including high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, increased risk for heart disease and stroke, and increased risk for many types of cancer.

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“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” AMA board member Patrice Harris, MD, said in a statement. “The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity.”