Ireland spends less on obesity treatment than any other EU country despite more than a million people living with the “treatable disease”.
Professor Carel le Roux, spokesman for the Irish Society of Nutrition and Metabolism said Ireland’s paltry funding for public obesity is directly linked to it not being recognised as a chronic disease.
More than one million people, including 50,000 children have obesity.
However, there is a major shortage of public treatment, and a two-tier system, because the HSE does not recognise it as a disease, said the society.
Speaking today on World Obesity Day, Prof le Roux said: “Proven treatments, both surgery and cost-effective medicines, should be available to all based upon need. By not providing treatments, the HSE ends up paying much more for the long-term complications of obesity.”
Consultant surgeon at St Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin Professor Helen Heneghan said that blaming people for their obesity is a “flawed strategy which leads to health disparities”. She said: “Obesity is a response to biologically-determined body weight regulation, and not gluttony or laziness.”
“Relying on willpower and moral strength to change biology has not been an effective management strategy and resulted in an exponential increase in people with obesity,” she said.
Recognition of obesity as a disease and making treatment universally available would prevent cancer for some patients, said Professor Heneghan. Ireland has been at the forefront of developing cost-effective obesity treatments, including drugs and operations, yet they are not readily available, she said.
The society is now calling on the HSE to make obesity treatments a part of universal public healthcare. And while the HSE does not recognise obesity as a disease, the Department of Health already does, said Prof le Roux.
“With effective treatment, the burden of this chronic disease can be reversed in a similar way as has been achieved with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Existing ‘eat less and move more’ public awareness programmes are important as prevention strategies, but once someone is obese then this is ineffective for them.
“We have the cost-effective tools and the know-how to do this, all we need is a change of policy from the HSE.”