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"This vital recognition of obesity as a disease can help to ensure more resources are dedicated to needed research, prevention and treatment; encourage health care professionals to recognize obesity treatment as a needed and respected vocation; and, reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by the millions affected," he said.

Kyle said the AMA has now joined a number of organizations that have previously made this classification, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Not everyone thinks the AMA's decision was the right one, however. In fact, the move was opposed by many in the doctors' group, including a committee that had been charged with exploring the issue. It had voted not to recognize obesity as a disease.

One of the objections to labeling obesity as a disease hinges on the way obesity is determined, using the so-called body mass index -- a ratio of weight to height -- that some health experts think is inexact.

That's not the only objection.

"I have never liked the idea of characterizing obesity as a disease, because disease occurs when the body is malfunctioning," said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. "Turning surplus calories into a fat reserve is not malfunction, it is normal physiology."

Katz said obesity is largely a societal problem caused by too much food and too little physical activity. While obesity certainly needs to be treated, the aspects of culture that have led to the obesity epidemic need to be changed, he said.

"Obesity is rampant in the modern world not because of changes in our bodies, but because of changes in the modern world. We are drowning in excess calories and labor-saving technologies," he said.

He thinks obesity treatments deserve insurance coverage.

During the past 20 years, there has been a dramatic increase in obesity in the United States, with more than one-third of adults (35.7 percent) and approximately 17 percent (or 12.5 million) of children and teens considered obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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