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Nevada bill would define obesity as chronic disease

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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Obesity could soon be defined as a chronic disease, and Nevada officials would be required to compile an annual report about what's being done to fight it in the state.

The provisions are part of SB402, a bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mo Denis and discussed Monday in the Assembly Health and Human Services Committee. The measure, which already passed the Senate in a 20-1 vote, was framed as one that could especially help minority communities.

"Obesity is an issue that affects all communities, but it ... can significantly impact minorities even more," said Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo. "This will help us get one step closer to creating that awareness we need in some of our more vulnerable areas."

The bill would create a specific definition of obesity in state law that's based on body mass index, body fat percentage or waist size.

Supporters say the bill will help Nevada apply for chronic disease prevention grants to combat obesity and will empower people to approach obesity as a treatable medical condition.

"There really is a stigma, a sense of weakness, that's associated with obesity," said Dr. Tracey Green, Nevada's chief medical office. "We as physicians can begin addressing it as an illness as opposed to a weakness."

No one spoke out against the bill Monday, but the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance issued a statement in April denouncing the measure, and the group is promoting an online petition encouraging lawmakers and the governor to oppose it.

"Body weight is not a proxy for health," the group said in a statement. "Assuming so is both unscientific and prejudicial. These assumptions lead to bias and discrimination in education, the workplace, health care, family relationships and social dynamics."

A proposed amendment to SB402 would allow Nevada to continue collecting height and weight data from a sampling of schoolchildren so officials can apply for public health grants. The extension was previously part of a bill that would have made physical education mandatory, but that bill is considered dead.

"What we really need is to look over time, longitudinally, to make sure that our interventions do make a difference," said Dr. Joseph Iser of the Southern Nevada Health District.

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