NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Decrease Size, Decrease Tax Burden

March 11, 2004

Obese Americans who take drastic, expensive action to lose weight under a doctor's orders will also be able to lighten their tax load. The Internal Revenue Service allows taxpayers who are forced to spend thousands of dollars because of obesity to deduct expenses for stomach-stapling surgery, approved weight-loss drugs and nutritional counseling:

  • To claim the deduction, a person must itemize; deductions are allowed for un-reimbursed expenses for the treatment of an individual, spouse and dependents if the cost is more than 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.
  • The IRS designated obesity as a disease in April 2002; previously, taxpayers only were allowed to claim the cost of weight loss programs recommended by a physician to treat a specific disease associated with obesity, such as hypertension.
  • The IRS ruling does not define obesity - generally described as excess body fat of 30 pounds or more over ideal body weight, or a body mass index of 30 or more; a doctor's diagnosis is required before surgery or nutrition counseling costs can be deducted.

Experts acknowledge the 7.5 percent threshold may prevent many from benefiting. However, workers who set aside pretax medical dollars in Medical Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts will benefit because both programs use the IRS definition of medical expenses, say experts.

Source: Connie Farrow, "IRS allows tax deduction for doctor-approved weight-loss," USA Today, March 1, 2004.

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