Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Obesity should be classified as a disease, the Obesity Summit was told this morning.

In opening the two-day summit in Canberra, Obesity Australia chair Prof John Funder said that until obesity was classified as a disease, advances in the management of the epidemic in Australia will languish.

“It is associated with diabetes and heart disease, and they are diseases,” he said.  

“GP’s don’t know how to deal with it because it doesn’t have an appropriate Medicare number,” he said. 

“If it had an appropriate Medicare number all the channels for treatment and management of overweight and obesity, which includes bariatric surgery and weight loss programs, would be on the public health system, and so available to everyone, not just the few who currently can afford it.

“At this summit we will be looking for a consensus to have obesity recognised as a disease, which the American Medical Association did in June for the United States. The UK does not have a health system as good as ours, but bariatric surgery is much more available on the National Health Service there.”

Following the AMA June announcement, new guidelines were released this month by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and The Obesity Society for doctors to more actively treat obese patients for weight loss.

Guidelines strategies include prescribing patients a diet that cuts out 500 or more calories a day, an exercise plan that gets patients moving at least 2 ½ hours each week and behavioral counselling to help patients stick with the plan. Physicians also should consider weight-loss surgery for severely obese patients who have one or more obesity-related health problem, such as diabetes, sleep apnea or high blood pressure. In the past, US doctors waited until patients were struggling with two such issues.

Over the past three decades in Australia the prevalence of overweight and obesity has increased more than three-fold. Australian data indicates a quarter of our adult population is obese, and another 40% overweight. Obesity is a serious, chronic, relapsing disease, with a constellation of associated disorders – diabetes, cardiovascular and renal disease, cancer, sleep apnoea and narcolepsy, depression and reproductive difficulties. These represent a massive cost issue in terms of health and productivity.

OECD’s annual Health at a Glance report issued last week (November 21) recorded Australia at number four among the fattest nations in the world at 28.3%, behind the U.S. (36.5%), Mexico (32.4%) and New Zealand (28.4%). Previously, Australia was ranked fifth. 

Media comment: Prof Funder  0419 891 451 (might be difficult to reach) or Prof John Dixon, member of Obesity Australia’s Scientific Advisory Council  0408 447 020.

Contact Profile

Graeme Willingham

P: 0414 499 887


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