August 29, 2008

National Obesity Crisis Spreads to the West ; A New Study Has Revealed That the Westcountry’s Waistlines Are Expanding Dangerously, in the First Evidence That the National Obesity Epidemic is Creeping into the Region.

By Louise Vennells

A new study has revealed that the Westcountry's waistlines are expanding dangerously, in the first evidence that the national obesity epidemic is creeping into the region.

Both Truro and Plymouth have featured prominently on a new "fat map" which indicates that more than 8 per cent of the population are so overweight that it is threatening their health.

Researchers claim this is the first time Cornwall and Devon have been highlighted in such a study, as traditionally the outdoor lifestyle the region inspires has kept average weight in check.

In a previous study in 2006, which used different methodology and cannot be directly compared, the Westcountry did not raise cause for concern.

But, after using the more accurate method of processing data collected from GP surgeries and working out the average obesity rate for each Primary Care Trust area, analysts at Dr Foster Intelligence found that Truro and Plymouth both carried the second highest warning level after finding that more than 8 per cent of residents were obese.

Plymouth has its own PCT area, and Truro was identified as a "fat city" because it is the largest conurbation within the Cornwall trust. Torbay fell into the same category, although Devon fared slightly better with just over 7 per cent obesity found.

Being overweight can dramatically reduce life expectancy and increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and cancer. The report, sponsored by Roche Pharmaceuticals, follows the publication of the Government's National Obesity Strategy, which warned that 90 per cent of adults would end up being overweight in future if their diets and lifestyle habits were not addressed. Such a situation would create an annual bill of pounds50 billion.

A spokesman for Dr Foster Intelligence admitted the study was not perfect. He said: "This is the best view of the data we can get, but it can't tell you which patients aren't turning up to their GP reporting that sort of problem.

"There is a stigma attached to being obese and there's a whole list of reasons why the data we have isn't as complete as we would like, but it's as accurate as can be."

Dr Matthew Stead, chairman of the Cornwall Local Medical Council, which represents doctors, said "society needs to be concerned" about obesity.

"People who become overweight can get into a very depressing and difficult position where getting slim again is extremely difficult," he said.

"Sometimes it's very tempting for them to blame health professionals, or to blame their genes - but the number of people who are obese because of medical reasons is extremely small. It's a simple mathematical equation - if you take in more calories than you burn off then it has to be stored somewhere."

He said the key to a solution lay in educating children, and encouraging adults throughout their lives to eat and live healthily.

Obesity is defined using the body mass index scale (BMI), and is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared. Anyone with a BMI over 30 was considered obese for the purpose of the report.

All the PCT areas are working towards a strategy to cooperate with other agencies to address the issue. It is likely to be published towards the end of the year.

June Davison, cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said obesity rates were "alarming"

"Even losing a moderate amount of weight can help to improve your heart, health and lifestyle," she said.

Lindley Owen, public health consultant with Cornwall PCT, said: "Both our modern way of life and our everyday environment make it difficult for us to get and keep at a healthy weight.

"We are increasingly reliant on cars to get around, and are spending more time on activities such as watching TV and playing computer games."

She said the trust had worked with partners to encourage people to eat healthy, local produce and to enjoy the Cornish countryside while getting fit, as well as activities for the over-fifties and the Cornwall Corporate Games being held in Newquay next month.

Andrew George, Lib-Dem MP for St Ives, blamed a "fast food burger culture" and cheap two-for-one supermarket deals which promote gluttony. He said the British should learn from the French, where "quality is prized over quantity".

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.