In order to fight what it described as an "obesity epidemic," the American Medical Association has voted to recognize obesity as a disease and recommended a number of measures to fight it.

The association voted on the measure Tuesday at its annual meeting in Chicago. The AMA noted that obesity rates in the United States have "doubled among adults in the last 20 years and tripled among children in a single generation" and that the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service already recognize the condition as a disease.


Ashley Potter, left, an exercise physiologist in Huntington, W.Va., measures the waistline of a participant in a heart disease prevention program. (Howie McCormick/AP)

According to "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012," a study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in September last year, adult obesity rates in 2011 exceeded 30 per cent in 12 U.S. states. The study projected that "if rates continue to increase at the current pace, adult obesity rates could exceed 60 per cent in 13 states, and all states could have rates above 44 per cent by 2030."

In 2010, Statistics Canada reported that 19 per cent of males and 21 per cent of females aged 20 to 39 years were classified as obese. By age 60 to 69 years, the percentage was about one-third.

The Canadian Medical Association said Wednesday that while it doesn't officially label obesity a disease, it is recognized in the medical community as such.

"The real question is how we treat it," a spokeswoman said in an email to CBC News. "This is why we need to transform our system for better management of chronic conditions."

The CMA suggested physicians and other health professionals work with their patients to reduce obesity through education, proper nutrition and regular exercise.

Obesity is associated with a variety of diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.

The AMA's recommendations accompanying the vote included urging physicians and insurance companies to "recognize obesity as a complex disorder," encouraging national efforts to educate the public "about the health risks of being overweight and obese."

The AMA also recommended the creation of National Obesity Awareness Month to highlight the benefits of exercise and to warn about the risks of obesity.

With files from CBC News