The Covid-19 pandemic has made an already poor situation worse for those suffering from obesity, a leading bariatric surgeon has said.
The impact of the pandemic has been felt right across the health sector and interruptions to services have led to longer waiting lists.
Dr John Conneely, a consultant surgeon at the Mater Private Network, says patients suffering from obesity have always stuggled to access health services to help them to lose or maintain weight loss and this struggle has been exacerbated by the coronavirus.
He is calling on the HSE and Department of Health to urgent address the challenges faced by people trying access weight loss or management services.
"As we begin to emerge from Covid-19 our health services now must plan and adequately resource the services patients suffering from obesity need to quickly access supports to achieve and maintain a healthy weight."
As waiting lists continue to grow, people's conditions are worsening.
"For many people who are suffering from obesity, the stress, uncertainty, and repeated lockdowns have exacerbated their condition, similarly to all those with chronic conditions," said Dr Conneely.
With many opportunities to be physically active suspended during lockdowns, many people are struggling to keep active and are leading a more sedentary lifestyle.
Dr Conneely believes the Covid crisis is likely to lead to an increase in the incidence of obesity in Ireland.
The virus itself can present significant challenges for those already suffering from obesity and has been linked to higher hospital admission rates and poorer outcomes.
A World Obesity Federation report claims that about nine in 10 Covid-19 deaths have occurred in countries with high obesity rates.
The report, which has analysed obesity rates in countries around the world as well as Covid-19 deaths, also says that the death rate is 10 times higher in countries where 50% or more of the population is overweight.
According to Dr Conneely, pre-Covid-19, Ireland had the lowest numbers of bariatric surgeries in the developed world, performing less than one surgery per 100,000 people per year, whereas international norms are about 1,000 per 100,000 annually.
During Covid-19, with the cancellation of many surgical procedures, bariatric surgery for complex obesity is likely to have reduced further.
The surgery have been shown to be an effective option for those living with chronic obesity.
"We have incontrovertible evidence from global experience that bariatric surgery can be transformative for patients and prevent or reduce the incidence of other conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, making them also more cost effective for our health services," said Dr Conneely.
Research published last year found that bariatric surgery can free 67% of patients with Type 2 diabetes from the use of insulin.
The research also found that this surgery is more effective and cheaper than medical therapy for diabetes.