The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges has published a report containing 10 recommendations designed to tackle the UK’s obesity epidemic – a story covered by most of the UK media.
The latest health survey data suggests the UK is the ‘fat man of Europe’, with a quarter of men and women, and one in five 10-11 year olds being obese.
In a compelling analogy, the report likens the current situation of obesity to that of smoking during the 1970s.
During the 1970s, most people working in the medical profession knew that smoking presented a significant risk to public health, but little was being done about it.
The report argues that a similar situation now exists regarding the health risks associated with obesity – which is estimated to cost the NHS £5.1 billion a year.
The views of thousands of practicing doctors in the UK were sought by the report's authors on how best to tackle the obesity crisis.
The report presents 10 key recommendations on new ways to address the growing public health problem of obesity, including:
As the chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges says, ‘This report does not pretend to have all the answers. But it does say we need together to do more, starting right now, before the problem becomes worse and the NHS can no longer cope.’
The report, ‘Measuring Up: The medical profession’s prescription for the nation’s obesity crisis’, was written by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and published this month.
It reveals how data from the 2009-11 Health Survey for England suggests that the UK is the ‘fat man of Europe’.
The survey showed that one quarter of men and women in England are obese (defined as a body mass index [BMI] over 30) and that two thirds of adults are obese or overweight (BMI over 25).
Another worrying trend highlighted by the report is that the 2011-12 National Child Measurement Programme reported that one in five children aged 10-11 is obese and one in three is overweight or obese.
Over the last 20 years, the number of morbidly obese adults (BMI over 40) is said to have more than doubled and now stands at over 1 million UK citizens.
The report is said to represent the views of the vast majority of the UK’s 220,000 practicing doctors, who are ‘united in seeing the epidemic of obesity as the greatest public health crisis facing the UK’.
It is said to be ‘unprecedented’ for medical colleges and faculties to come together like this, but they have done so in recognition of the massive crisis that is happening and the fact that current strategies to reduce obesity are having an insufficient impact.
The report says that both past and current governments have made stringent efforts to address the tide of obesity, and there has been progress, such as the ‘traffic light’ food labelling in supermarkets and the ‘5-a-day’ scheme. However, the UK still faces ‘a problem of epidemic proportions’.
The report does not claim to be a systematic review of all available strategies to tackle obesity, and the authors explicitly say that the recommendations they make have not been tested in randomised controlled trials.
Instead, the Academy embarked on a ‘call for evidence’, inviting individuals and organisations to ‘tell us what works’.
It wanted to hear from those who could recommend interventions and programmes that had helped to either prevent or treat overweight and obesity in the areas of individual responsibility, action by healthcare professionals, environmental factors, economic measures, and educational influences.
The Academy says it received hundreds of suggestions, and the discussions that followed helped it to further focus thoughts and ideas.
The report has 10 key recommendations which include actions that would need to be taken by health professionals and ways to make healthier choices easier. The key recommendations are as follows:
The report outlines what medical professionals believe to be ‘a wide-ranging set of recommendations that have the clear objective of reducing the prevalence of obesity across the UK population’. The authors looked at the obesity crisis from both the doctors’ and patient/public’s perspectives, and have made the responsibility of professionals clear, while being realistic about limitations.
The Chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges concludes, ‘This report does not pretend to have all the answers. But it does say we need together to do more, starting right now, before the problem becomes worse and the NHS can no longer cope.’
He continues: ‘We suggest 10 ideas that should be considered seriously. They need to be evaluated and, if they don't work, we need to explore other options. There is no single simple solution – if there was we wouldn't be in the position we are now. But this is no excuse for us to sit on our hands and do nothing.’
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department of Health quoted in The Guardian said that it was considering the report’s findings.
If the relevant authorities do decide to implement the recommendations contained in the report, due to their wide-ranging nature, it is unlikley that they will come into force during this Parliament.