OBESE Australians would be treated as if they have a disease and have their dietitian, personal trainer and physiotherapist bills subsidised by Medicare, under a radical plan proposed by the nation's top obesity experts.
Doctors are warning obesity can slash 13 years off a person's life and must be acknowledged as more than just a "lifestyle disorder".
"It's not too dissimilar to having cancer," Monash University Associate Professor John Dixon said.
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The push to declare obesity a disease and have Medicare rebates on services for sufferers will be discussed at the annual scientific meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society, which consists of the top experts in the field, in Sydney this weekend.
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Endocrinologist Dr Gerry Greenfield, from St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney, who will address the society's meeting, said obese patients simply won't get the Medicare funding they need for access to important health advice unless the condition is given the disease status it deserves.
More than a quarter of Australia's adult population is obese, and another 40 per cent overweight, a more than fourfold increase over the past thirty years.
Dr Greenfield said there was an under appreciation that obesity was "not just a lifestyle disorder but a chronic disease".
The Federal Government currently funds chronic disease management plans for people who have asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
But there are no such plans for obesity and although Medicare funds bariatric surgery such as lap bands very few public hospitals provide the surgery with just 10 per cent performed in public hospitals.
"It's been more of a political thing, if you define it as a disease you've got to pay for therapy," Prof Dixon said.
Providing chronic disease management plans for the obese could be very costly with more than five million Australians estimated to be obese.
If every obese Australia had a chronic disease management plan drawn up by a GP it would cost around $700 million, then Medicare would have to fund allied health services required by the plan.
A 50 per cent increase in bariatric surgery in public hospitals has been estimated to cost around $50 million over three years.
However Professor Dixon says it could save money in the long term with new research showing the surgery can reverse diabetes and save lives.
"It is almost negligent not to provide the treatment," he said.
The push comes after the American Medical Association controversially declared obesity a disease earlier this year.
Australian obesity experts are also calling for GPs to weigh patients and measure their waist circumference at every visit in the same way they routinely check blood pressure.
Just 46 per cent of obese patients were correctly categorised as such by their doctors, a University of Newcastle study released earlier this week found.
However, it also follows a study published this month in the American Journal of Epidemiology which showed older people who were overweight and obese were less likely to die than normal weight people who lost weight.
Professor Dixon said mildly obese could have a normal life expectancy but resources need to be focused on the super obese, those with a BMI over 35.
"If you have a condition that interferes with your ability to function, that reduces your length of life, that interferes with your quality of life - it's called a disease," he said.
People with a BMI over 35 have high levels of physical disability, they suffer stress, depression, are likely to have diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea and be unable to perform activities essential to daily living, Professor Dixon said.
A US study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a 20-year-old male with a BMI over 45 faced a 13-year or 22 per cent reduction in life expectancy. For women in the same weight range life expectancy was cut by eight years.