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.

The tax code indicates that total medical expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of an individual’s adjusted gross income and can only be taken by taxpayers who itemize their deductions. This means that a person with an AGI of $50,000 would be able to deduct medical expenses that exceed $3,750. Many individuals do not, however, have enough medical expenses to qualify for a 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.

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