Experts call for strategy to tackle obesity

A national obesity treatment strategy could save the State at least €56m over a decade, medical experts believe.

The Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN) said the likely savings were based on a reduction in the costs of diabetes medication, solely.

The society’s estimate is based on a minimum of 400 operations a year on patients who are obese and have difficulty in controlling diabetes.

Ireland has one of the highest obesity rates in Europe. One in four adults are obese and one in four children are overweight.

IrSPEN is calling on the Government ahead of European Obesity Day, this Saturday, to implement a national obesity treatment programme. It wants obesity recognised as a disease of the brain and those affected provided with personalised treatment plans.

Consultant in obesity and endocrinology Prof Francis Finucane has led the development of clinical services for people with severe obesity at Galway University Hospital, one of two dedicated obesity clinics. The other clinic is based in Dublin.

“Failing to accept obesity as a disease contributes to stigma, shame, stress and, ultimately, the worsening health of patients,” said Prof Finucane. Complications from obesity were common, costly to manage and had a severe effect on a person’s wellbeing He had seen the benefits of dedicated obesity treatment programmes. Patients lost 10%, or more of their body weight and reduced risk of death from heart disease and stroke.

About one in 20 adults in Ireland have an obesity-related disease such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnoea or fertility issues.

“By taking this personalised approach, we can significantly reduce the costs of obesity-related diseases in Ireland and drastically improve people’s quality of life,” he said.

“We should probably be seeing between 500 and 1,000 new patients a year. At the moment, we see about 400 and the waiting list is over a year for an assessment.

“There are hundreds more awaiting a psychological assessment before going onto the surgical waiting list.”

Prof Finucane said the Government’s policy on obesity was going in the right direction but was too vague.

The Government indicated it would introduce a national obesity programme last September, and Prof Finucane said it should be expedited. “Every day that passes without that programme being funded and rolled out nationally is a day our bariatric patients are on a waiting list, and that is unacceptable,” he said.

IrSPEN board member Prof Carel le Roux said that extensive medical research showed only two in 10 patients would respond to weight-loss medication and five would respond to obesity surgery.

Prof le Roux, who works at the Diabetes Complications Research Centre at University College Dublin’s Conway Institute, said the failure to invest in treatment programmes was a false economy.

“While prevention of obesity remains key, funding also needs to be allocated to mitigate and treat the disease itself,” he said.

The IrSPEN’ report Obesity is a Chronic Disease Requiring Treatment: A Call to Action calls for the establishment of obesity treatment centres in each of the six hospital groups.

The report is supported by the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and the European Association for the Study of Obesity.

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