BALTIMORE (WJZ) — This week, the American Medical Association declared obesity a disease.

Mike Schuh reports–78 million people are affected, and the new designation may mean better treatment.

Bettina Straight weighed as much as a football player. It hit home when she saw a video of her and her friends.

“And so I saw myself up there and felt it wasn’t really me,” she said.

Like millions of Americans, she was obese. This week, the AMA said obesity isn’t a condition, it’s a disease. At 262 pounds, Straight sought medical help.

“Patients need to know that these things are very important to their health,” said Sinai Chief Bariatric Surgeon Dr. Christina Li.

Seven years ago, Dr. Li performed bariatric surgery on Straight, who then lost 102 pounds.

“It’s harder for me to sit down, whereas before it was hard for me to get up. The energy level for me is completely different,” Straight said.

Dr. Li supports the AMA, as carrying all that weight causes many other medical problems.

“One of the causes for all those other diseases is obesity,” Li said. “It is a foundation.”

Tammie Wallace works in Dr. Li’s office; she’s lost 120 pounds.

“I had high blood pressure, sleep apnea, borderline diabetes. All those co-morbidites are gone,” she said.

By being declared a disease, it’s hoped doctors will be paid specifically to help their obese patients.

“Now hopefully providers can talk with their patients and actually bill for that. Up til now, they can’t actually bill for talking about obesity, which is unbelievable,” Li said.

The decision by the AMA has no legal authority.

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