LA CROSSE, Wis. -

The American Medical Association now recognizes obesity as a disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates one-in-three American adults are obese.

But some local numbers show a bigger problem. Forty percent of Gundersen Health System's patients last year were obese.

Gundersen Epidemiologist Brenda Rooney said the American Medical Association's decision is a step in the right direction.

"Instead of looking at obesity as a bad behavior, it's now seen as a medical condition or a disease."

She said not only could that impact the way doctors approach obesity, it also means insurance companies could be mandated to cover the treatment of obesity -- not just related health issues like diabetes or high blood pressure.

"And if your insurance covers it or partially covers it, that's a lot more incentive for people to go through treatment," said Rooney.

Rooney said obesity is caused by a combination of three factors: genetics, environment and behavior. She said changing the environment makes it easier for people to change their behavior.

"Because if the healthy choice is the easy choice, then you're going to be able to fight the genetic predisposition that you may have," said Rooney.

In the last few years, healthier changes have been coming to the La Crosse community. In 2010, La Crosse County became one of 50 communities around the country to become part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative to make healthy living easier.

The Farm2School program teaches kids about fruits and veggies. Restaurants are encouraged to identify their healthy food as part of the 500 Club. Last year, the city of La Crosse adopted a bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

The city has added about 10 miles of bike lanes, which makes it easier for people to get active.

"One of the other goals was to form a city bike-ped committee. And they were just appointed by the mayor at the last council meeting. And so we're hoping to have our first meeting with them in July," said La Crosse Senior Planner Tim Acklin.

It's another tool to slim down the community's obesity epidemic.

Rooney said one concern she has about labeling obesity a disease is that some might think it takes the pressure off them to make healthy choices. But she said permanent changes to the community, like more bike lanes, make those healthy choices more accessible.