Local health experts support obesity being classified a disease - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local health experts support obesity being classified a disease

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

The nation's largest medical group is declaring obesity a disease, saying it is not just about people with bad habits. The American Medical Association's statement matches what many physicians have said all along.  

Both members of the AMA and local health professionals, hope the classification will bring more awareness to the epidemic and create a more widespread interest from the government and private business to help treat obesity.

"When you have a body that's got as much influence as the American Medical Association to come out and vote in favor of this being called a disease, then it certainly makes people take notice," says Dr. Chris Sandborn.

Dr. Sandborn is the director of  the metabolic and bariatric surgery program at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center. While he has always treated obesity as a disease, he is glad there is a renewed focus on fighting it.

"We're kind of getting away from this, almost denial state that we're in of saying that this is just a lifestyle choice, people just need to push away from the tables, go exercise more and that'll take care of it," he says.

Sandborn says many factors play into obesity, including metabolic, hormonal and even genetic causes.

"We do have to attack the lifestyle issues, but the driving forces behind that are a lot of times engrained in the patient's physiology and metabolism," says Sandborn.

An example of a local company at the forefront of attacking obesity from all sides, is BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

"We bring in psychologists, dietitians, doctors and other subject matter experts to talk with them in small groups and they can really support each other," says Ryan Picarella, manager of corporate wellness for the  BlueCross BlueShield Chattanooga campus.

On top of counseling, BlueCross has a state of the art workout facility and wellness programs to keep its employees in good health. Picarella also says it saves the company money.

"Happy employees are better employees and they're more likely to stick with your company. They work harder, they're not sick at home as much," he says.

As far as insurance, many carriers already offer coverage for obesity treatment.

Dr. John Wright, regional medical director for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee says, "While we don't see any immediate changes to our policies due to this announcement, it certainly requires ongoing review and study of the recommendations. We will continue to routinely review our policies as new treatment options are supported by evidence based data."

In recent years, Medicare has started paying for obesity treatment and the Heart Association and Endocrinology Association have declared obesity as a disease.

As it stands now, one third of the U.S. population is considered obese.

In Tennessee, 29.2% of the population is considered obese, or having a body mass index of 30 or higher.

The state ranks 35 out of the entire country.

Georgia stands at 27th and Alabama is 47th.

Colorado is among the healthiest states and Mississippi is considered the least healthy.

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