WASHINGTON, July 16 (AFP) - Obesity is a disease, according to the largest US government health care plan, which will pay for some treatments for overweight Americans, now in epidemic numbers.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson told a Senate committee Thursday that Medicare, which covers retirees and the handicapped, will allow obesity to be treated as a disease in its own right.
A treatment must prove to be medically effective to be reimbursed, however.
"With this new policy, Medicare will be able to review scientific evidence in order to determine which interventions improve health," Thompson said.
"Obesity is a critical public health problem in our country that causes millions of Americans to suffer unnecessary health problems and to die prematurely."
The number of obese Americans has more than doubled since 1980, affecting one out of three persons, or a total of 59 million adults.
Thompson's department figures that direct economic losses from obesity, due to the illnesses that it brings on, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, total some 120 billion dollars annually, and are growing.
According to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in March, obesity and overweight caused by poor eating habits and lack of exercise could become the leading cause of death in the United States by next year.
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