New research shows that treatment-seeking patients with severe obesity issues would prefer lifestyle modification and drug therapy over bariatric surgery, where the treatment had equivalent results and costs.
The research also highlighted the desire for obesity treatments that also offer access to psychological services, but findings from focus groups and a survey of 157 people accessing treatment also found concerns that those supports are not always readily available and that there can be a 'one-size-fits-all' policy in tackling severe obesity.
The study, conducted by experts at NUI Galway and the Centre for Public Health, Queens University Belfast, Belfast, UK and led by Dr Michelle Queally, lecturer in the Department of Economics, found those surveyed indicated they were prepared to pay more for services they believed would assist them.
For example, respondents were willing to pay €9.25 per month per stone of weight loss and €3.81 per month to reduce their risk of fatal heart attack by 1%.
They are also willing to pay €27.48 per month for access to psychological services over a 12-month period.
"With respect to the method of weight loss, respondents are willing to pay approximately €85 per month to have diet and lifestyle modification as their main method of achieving weight loss relative to bariatric surgery," it said.
The study, titled Preferences for Weight Loss Treatment Amongst Treatment‑Seeking Patients with Severe Obesity: A Discrete Choice Experiment, used information taken from people who had been referred to a lifestyle intervention programme in Galway University Hospital in 2013 - the Changing Lifestyle with Activity and Nutrition (CLANN) programme.
In total, 157 people were included in the final survey, just over two-thirds of whom were women. The average age of respondents in the study was 47.5 years.
The majority of the sample (89%) fell into the severe obesity categories. Almost half indicated their obesity had been present since before they were aged 20.
Respondents had approximately eight GP visits per year on average, while 18% indicated that they were unable to work due to health reasons.
With obesity-related direct healthcare costs projected to rise to €5.4bn by 2030, the latest study said: "there is a lack of a systematic interdisciplinary approach to treating severe obesity, and it is likely that patients with severe obesity receive suboptimal treatment as a result".
It also queried the capacity of the health system here to expand bariatric surgery provision.
According to the study: "There is a preference for lifestyle modification to achieve weight loss".
It said an important finding was the importance of access to psychological services alongside obesity treatment among focus groups and those surveyed.
The study said bariatric surgery was, on average, the least favoured methods of treatment compared to lifestyle modification and drug therapy alongside lifestyle modification.
"The results suggest a 'one size fits all' policy is not appropriate with respect to interventions designed to support weight loss among the severely obese," it said.