Tax Deductions May Help Fight Obesity

Article excerpt

A disease is defined as a sickness of the body or mind. Until recently, obesity was not considered a disease but a self-inflicted, controllable affliction caused by poor lifestyle choices, such as lack of exercise or improper eating habits.

The statistics are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 1999 and 2000 nearly two-thirds of Americans 20 years of age and older were overweight and almost one-third were obese. The highest percentage of obese men and women were 45 to 74 years old.

Revenue ruling 79-151 disallowed a deduction for participation in a weight-loss program unless it was to cure a specific ailment or disease. At the time obesity was not considered a disease. Since then traditional beliefs have changed. In 1998 the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute described obesity as a "complex, multifactorial chronic disease." In 2000 the Food and Drug Administration said, in the Federal Register, that "obesity is a disease."

A more significant announcement came in July 2004 when Medicare officials withdrew a previous declaration that obesity was not a disease. Americans on Medicare will no doubt begin to request i3ayments for stomach surgery, diet activities and other obesity-related medical costs. The policy change, therefore, has the potential to significantly influence tax planning for clients who spend money to lose weight.

Revenue ruling 55-261, which deals with medical deductions, said the cost of medical care includes the cost of special food if the food is part of a program to treat illness, is not part of a taxpayer's normal nutritional needs and a physician documents the need. …