Bay Area Tax Attorneys – The expenses for certain weight-loss programs may be deducted as a medical expense. In order for uncompensated amounts paid by individuals for participation in a weight-loss program to be deductible, the program must be undertaken as treatment for a specific disease or diseases (including obesity) diagnosed by a physician.

The costs are not deductible by taxpayers who participate in weight-loss programs to improve their general health or appearance. The tax code treats obesity as a disease, and thus you can include in medical expenses amounts paid to lose weight if it is a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician. This includes fees paid for a membership in a weight reduction group and attendance at periodic meetings.

However, you cannot deduct the cost of diet food or beverages in medical expenses because the diet food and beverages substitute for what is normally consumed to satisfy nutritional needs. You can include the cost of special food in medical expenses only if:
1. The food does not satisfy normal nutritional needs,
2. The food alleviates or treats an illness, and
3. The need for the food is substantiated by a physician.

The amount you can include in medical expenses is limited to the amount by which the cost of the special food exceeds the cost of a normal diet.

The question always arises: why is the cost of the dietary meals and supplements not deductible? Recently, an individual who sells dietary meals and supplements wrote to his representative in Congress asking that very question. The Congressman raised this question with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel. The Chief Counsel’s office responded with the following:

The tax code provides a deduction for expenses paid for medical care of the taxpayer, his spouse, or a dependent; to the extent such expenses exceed the adjusted gross income. The tax code defines the term “medical care” as amounts paid for the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or for the purpose of affecting any structure or function of the body.

The code provides that no deduction shall be allowed for personal, living, or family expenses. Food is a personal item. Therefore, the cost of food is nondeductible. Meal replacements, diet foods, and supplements are substitutes for the food individuals normally consume. The costs of these items are nondeductible personal expenses under the tax code.

Based on the tax code, as outlined in the response above, IRS Publications and rulings generally take a very restrictive view of this deduction. Thus, in addition to no deduction being allowed for dietary meals and supplements, no portion of membership dues paid to a gym, health club or spa qualifies as a deductible medical expense in any case—even if the individual joined on the advice of a physician to lose weight to combat a disease.

John Erik Fraker, Esq.

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John Erik Fraker, Esq.

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