September 30, 2005

Health services not meeting obesity challenge-experts

LONDON (Reuters) - Healthcare systems have failed to come
to grips with the global obesity epidemic and its serious
health consequences, leading experts said on Friday.

More than a billion people, 10 percent of whom are
children, worldwide are obese or overweight. It is the sixth
most important risk factor in the overall burden of disease.

But there are no coordinated efforts among doctors, nurses,
and nutritionists to prevent people from piling on the pounds
or to help those who already have, the experts said.

"No health-service system has yet developed a useful
strategy for managing the huge numbers of overweight and obese
people in the community," said David Halsam, of the National
Obesity Forum, UK, and Philip James, of the International
Obesity Task Force.

In a report in the Lancet medical journal they detailed the
dire consequences of neglecting one of the world's most
neglected public health problems.

Obesity decreases life expectancy by seven years by the
time a person reaches 40 years old. About 30,000 deaths a year
in Britain and 10 times that amount in the United States are
attributable to being obese, according the duo.

In the United States, which has the highest rate of
overweight and obese people, the problem is set to overtake
smoking as the main preventable cause of illness and early

In addition to shortening life, carrying too much weight
also increases the risk of developing heart disease and stroke,
diabetes, arthritis and certain types of cancer.

"About 10 percent of all cancer deaths among non-smokers
are related to obesity," Halsam and James said.

Obese people are also more likely to suffer psychological
problems, be considered less acceptable partners and are
handicapped in job promotions and may earn less.

"The medical profession is only now waking up to the
political and industrial challenges as well as the medical
challenge," they said.

Halsam and James warned that food industry interests, with
powers greater than those of the tobacco giants, are lobbying
and using tactics to slow the drive for change.

"Our new scientific understanding of obesity is helping to
validate a new approach to tackling the problem but the
response of the medical profession to both its management and
prevention is still at an early stage," they added.