The American Medical Association (AMA) House of Delegates has formally adopted three new resolutions at its 2013 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, that aim to define obesity as a disease, prohibit the marketing of energy drinks to adolescents younger than age 18, and end the eligibility of sugarsweetened beverages (SSBs) under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to news sources, delegates reached the decision to recognize obesity “as a disease state with multiple aspects requiring a range of interventions to advance obesity treatment and prevention” after hours of debate raised questions about how physicians and policymakers will use the declaration to counter rising obesity rates in the United States.

“Recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans,” said AMA board member Patrice Harris in a statement announcing the resolution. “The AMA is committed to improving health outcomes and is working to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, which are often linked to obesity.”

But not every delegate backed the policy change, as the AMA Council on Science and Public Health (CSPH) evidently made clear in its report on the resolution. In particular, CSPH cautioned that the disease label “is likely to improve health outcomes for some individuals, but may worsen outcomes for others,” arguing instead for the need to develop more accurate obesity indicators than body mass index. “We did not think the evidence rose to the level where obesity could be recognized as its own distinct medical disease state. Obesity is a very serious condition. It’s a scourge on our nation. It’s an epidemic. It’s a significant risk factor for many other diseases,” one CSPH spokesperson was quoted as saying. “But that does not alone make it a distinct medical disease state.”

Meanwhile, delegates have also called on AMA “to work to remove [SSBs] from the SNAP program and encourage state health agencies to include nutrition information in routine materials sent to SNAP recipients,” in addition to voting for a ban on energy drink marketing to youth. To this end, AMA members noted the concerns of health advocates as well as the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing investigations into “reports of illness, injury or death of people who drank products marketed as ‘energy drinks’ or ‘energy shots.’” As AMA board member Alexander Ding explained, “Energy drinks contain massive and excessive amounts of caffeine that may lead to a host of health problems in young people, including heart problems, and banning companies from marketing these products to adolescents is a common sense action that we can take to protect the health of American kids.” See AMA Press Releases, June 18 and 19, 2013; American Heart Association Press Release, June 19, 2013.

The American Beverage Association, however, has since decried the latter measure as a mischaracterization of caffeinated products. “We are disappointed that the [AMA] would pass a resolution fraught with inaccuracies about energy drinks and their ingredients,” AMA Communications Director Maureen Beach told media sources. “Most energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similar size cup of coffeehouse coffee, and most of the caffeine consumed by 14 to 21 year olds comes from foods and beverages other than energy drinks, according to an FDA report.” See, June 20, 2013.