(CBS News) The American Medical Association has officially recognized obesity as a disease, a decision that could change the way physicians and insurance companies deal with the condition.

The move, announced on Tuesday, will open up a range of medical interventions for the prevention and treatment of obesity and changes the status of obesity from “a major public health problem” to a disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 36 percent of American adults are obese.

Dr. Lou Aronne, an obesity expert at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said medical researchers have long recognized obesity as a disease but said the AMA’s recognition and re-classification will “have a tremendous impact on legislation in Washington [and] with insurance companies.”

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