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Triangle doctors hope new obesity guidelines change treatment, payment

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RALEIGH, N.C. -

A new way of thinking about obesity could change how doctors treat it and how insurance companies pay for it. 

This week the American Medical Association said they've started classifying obesity as a treatable disease. Doctors we talked to in the triangle say it could mean expanded insurance coverage for obesity-related treatments and medication in order to prevent other diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

"A lot of the reason why doctors don't treat and address obesity is they don't get paid for it," Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic said, "so calling it a disease sets up the chain of events for payment for doctors to actually act on it."

Doctor Westman tells his patients obesity is not necessarily their fault.

"We've come through and era where the food manufacturers have explicitly, by design, made food that does not cause you to feel full and actually causing you to want more," Westman said.

Doctor Sheila Patterson, a Raleigh-based bariatrician, also struggled to lose weight herself.  She's lost 70 pounds in the last ten years.  She says she understands the stigma and shame many of her patients feel.

"It's the last thing that's really ok for people to judge," Patterson said, "and recognizing it as a disease, will, I think, help people to be able to get some help."

The American Heart Association says more than 100 million Americans are obese.

Derick Waller

Derick is a reporter for WNCN covering crime, education, politics and just about everything in between. He has a knack for adapting to any story and consistently delivers information quickly across multiple platforms. More>>

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