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Obesity should be treated like other life-long diseases

Obese people should be treated the same as people with other life-long diseases

July 31, 2013

Obese people should be treated the same as people with other life-long diseases, a visiting eating disorders academic at the University of Canterbury (UC) says.

University of Sheffield psychology professor Glenn Waller says obese people may need access to long-term support and monitoring, just as diabetics require.

"There is a need for surgical interventions for severe cases, as that is the only proven method. Every day counts for an overstressed heart and the benefits outweigh the surgical risks in most cases.

"Psychotherapies in isolation do not work in their current form. That is well established by the research. For less severe cases, the recommended approach is lifestyle change, dietary reduction and increased exercise.

"This does not tend to create huge change, but a five to 10 percent loss of weight gives very real health benefits. In current research, we have found that such a reduction in weight results in improved self-esteem, better quality of life and reduced psychological health issues.

"However, any such lifestyle change regime needs to be monitored long-term, possibly for life. We have to think about obesity in the same way that we think about disorders such as diabetes – the patient might need long-term access to support and monitoring."

A 2008-09 Ministry of Health survey found one in four adults aged 15 years and over were obese. Nearly 45 percent of Maori adults and 58 percent of Pacific adults were obese. One in 12 children aged two to 14 years were obese.

"Obesity is linked to heart problems, respiratory disorders, diabetes and joint problems. Such individuals tend to have poor self-esteem, low mood and, of course, seriously impaired quality of life.

"The more severe the obesity, the worse the physical and psychological problems. In some cultures, including some Pacific Island cultures, being overweight has been valued as a sign of wealth and status. However, that is less and less the case over time as Western values around thinness have taken over from more traditional values.

"Individuals who come from poorer backgrounds are likely to have obesogenic diets. High calorie and high fat levels are found in cheaper, convenience foods and these groups tend to have low levels of recommended foods and engage in less exercise.

"One thing the research does agree on, however, is the importance of nipping the disease in the bud, as obesity in childhood is a predictor of adult obesity."

Professor Waller is an Erskine visitor to UC. The Erskine fellowship programme was established in 1963 following a generous bequest by former distinguished UC student John Erskine.


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