The IRS says it will begin allowing taxpayers to claim weight
loss expenses as a medical deduction.
In the past, taxpayers have been able to deduct the costs of
weight loss programs as a medical expense but only if they were
recommended by a doctor to treat a specific disease. The IRS did not
recognize obesity itself as an ailment that qualified for the weight loss
"It's going to help a lot of people," says Morgan Downey,
executive director of the nonprofit American Obesity Association. "Most
services are not covered by insurance and can be fairly expensive."
The IRS ruling could pave the way for insurance companies and
government programs, like Medicare, to offer coverage for obesity
treatment. Now, it is considered a symptom or a precursor to other
Evidence is mounting that obesity takes a huge toll on the
nation's health. The Obesity Association estimates that 300,000 deaths a
year can be attributed to the disease. In 1998, the National Institutes of
Health estimated that 97 million adult Americans were overweight or obese.
Obesity is linked to serious health risks like high blood pressure,
diabetes, heart disease, stroke, several types of cancer and gall bladder
In order to take the deduction, a taxpayer will have to
participate in a weight loss program for medically validated reasons.
Joining a gym or a weight control program to "improve the taxpayer's
appearance, general health and sense of well-being" will not qualify, says
Diet foods are not deductible, even if they are part if a
weight loss program. The IRS reasons that people have to purchase food
whether or not they participate in a weight-loss program.
The deduction comes as a medical expense, which must exceed
7.5 percent of adjusted gross income. Taxpayers wishing to claim this
deduction must itemize their deductions. Taxpayers can take a deduction
for expenses as far back as 1998.
SOURCE: Associated Press April 2002
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