'Shed Those Pounds, Shed Your Tax Bill' Says the IRS

In a ruling announced yesterday, the IRS has indicated that it now recognizes obesity as a disease, and will therefore allow medical deductions for weight loss expenses prescribed by a doctor.

Prior to Tuesday's ruling, medical deductions were allowed only if a doctor prescribed weight loss measures to treat specific diseases. Tuesday's ruling brings obesity into the definition of "disease" and now allows for these deductions.

To take the deduction, a taxpayer will have to participate 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" and not under a physician's guidance will not qualify, the IRS said.

Not included in the deduction are expenses associated with special food as prescribed by a doctor. The IRS assumes the taxpayer would be paying for food anyway, and this is just a replacement for their normal costs.

The deduction is available retroactively to tax year 1998. Taxpayers can file amended returns to take advantage of the break.

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