More Doctor Visits Due To Obesity Than Smoking
July 17, 2012

More Doctor Visits Due To Obesity Than Smoking

Connie K. Ho for — Your Universe Online

Feeling lethargic. Complaining of a headache. These are a just a few reasons a patient might visit a doctor. There´s a possibility that many of these issues could be related to a greater problem. Many of these issues used to be related to smoking and doctors wanted to combat the consequences of “big tobacco.” However, a new study shows that there´s been a shift of issues related to smoking to problems associated with obesity. In particular, a researcher from Concordia University recently stated that obesity leads to more doctor visits than smoking.

According to Concordia University, rates of obesity have been skyrocketing over the past 30 years and the disease is related to cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

"The fact that obesity is more serious than smoking helps people understand the gravity of the problem because they already have some kind of intuitive understanding of how bad smoking is," remarked James McIntosh, a professor in the Department of Economics at Concordia University, in a prepared statement.

McIntosh studied the effect of obesity on the number of doctor visits in Canada. He utilized a model that included data from more than 60,000 Canadians who participated in a 2010 Community Health Survey. The model allowed him to estimate that, if obesity was not a factor, doctor visits would reduce by 10 percent. If visits related to type 2 diabetes, an illness related to obesity, are taken into account, then the visits are reduced even more. The research findings also showed that obese individuals tend to visit the doctor more so than individuals who are regular smokers at a healthy weight.

There´s also the possibility that there are more doctor visits related to obesity than stated in the researching findings as the national survey doesn´t have information on weight history. As such, an individual who has developed obesity recently may not be feeling the full effects of the consequences of obesity, like diabetes, that normally need more medical attention. Therefore, McIntosh hopes that the next community healthy survey in Canada will also add weight history so that researchers will better be able to understand the correlation between obesity and the number of doctor visits.

"The data is clear on the fact that people are overeating and under-exercising, and that has to change," explained McIntosh in the statement. "I think academics have a responsibility to get policy makers interested in these serious problems."

Another recommendation McIntosh highlighted in his report was the benefit of having economic incentives. He proposed that people who are obese could have to pay more for health insurance as smokers have higher life insurance premiums. However, the problem that comes from this is the fact that obesity is found among people with low income and so it would be a difficult policy to implement.

Overall, a combination of methods, such as the regulation of the fast-food industry, is needed in order to combat this disorder.

"While the situation is serious, it's not catastrophic," noted McIntosh in the statement. "But now is the time to act before it gets out of control."