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Article of Interest - Obesity

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Bridges4Kids LogoIRS Rules Obesity a Disease: Weight Loss Can be Tax-Deductible
American Dietetic Association, 2004
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Although April’s income tax deadline can cause frustration, panic and expense for many people, recent IRS tax law changes offer some relief for a growing segment of the population – the now two-thirds of Americans who are overweight or obese.

The Internal Revenue Service’s new rules lessen the tax burden on individuals who itemize their deductions and have large medical expenses, which now include treatment for obesity. With income tax forms due this month, are your nutrition services tax deductible?

The Internal Revenue Service ruled in April 2002 that “uncompensated amounts paid by individuals for participation in a weight-loss program as treatment for a specific disease or diseases (including obesity) diagnosed by a physician are expenses for medical care that are deductible, subject to certain limitations. The cost of purchasing diet food items is not deductible.” This ruling allows taxpayers who pay for services related to their disease or weight condition to deduct those expenses.

Deductible medical expenses can include items such as bariatric surgery, approved weight-loss drugs and nutrition counseling services. Now that the IRS has defined obesity itself as a disease, taxpayers are able to deduct medical expenses related to obesity treatment ordered by a physician.

To take a deduction, a taxpayer must have participated in a weight-loss program for medically valid reasons. Simply joining a gym or a weight control program to "improve the taxpayer's appearance, general health and sense of well-being" without the guidance of a physician is not sufficient.

Still, according to the IRS ruling, diet or reduced-calorie food expenses are not deductible, even if they are an integral part of the weight loss plan. The IRS explains that people have to pay for food whether or not they are trying to lose weight.

The tax code indicates that a taxpayer’s total medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, and that they must itemize their deductions to qualify. However, few individuals spend enough of their income to qualify for the deduction. According to an IRS study, only 5 percent of taxpayers deducted any medical expenses in 2000. Taxpayers are advised to consult with professionals before taking any deductions in this area.

For more tax-deduction information regarding nutrition services, view the new IRS ruling (PDF) at


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