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Weight Loss Could Be A Gain For Some Taxpayers

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RALEIGH, N.C. — People who struggle with obesity say it is a disease, and now the government agrees. For the first time, the IRS will allow taxpayers to deduct weight loss expenses as a medical deduction.

"Caring for their health has not been rewarded very much," said Diana Koenning, who works with obese patients at WakeMed.

Koenning believes the new tax deduction could be just enough incentive to get people to enroll in programs.

"I think it will be an incentive. It's an encourager," she said.

In the past, medical treatments for obesity could be deducted only if they were to treat related problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.

Under the new guidelines, obesity itself is a medical condition. To qualify, taxpayers must be medically obese and participate in a weight loss program for medical reasons and be under a doctor's care.

Gym memberships, programs to improve appearance and diet foods are not deductable.

On tax forms, the deduction comes in the area of medical expenses. Those expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of the adjusted gross income, and can only be taken by taxpayers who itemize their deductions.

Health advocates believe that it is too soon to tell how many people will jump at the offer.

"No one knows what this will lead to, whether people will jump at the chance," Koenning said.

With more than 300,000 Americans dying from obesity-related illnesses each year, many experts do believe the deduction is a step in the right direction.