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Combating obesity

Experts call for new strategies to address obesity

New report highlights the need for European policymakers to tackle the impending health crisis

A new report titled ‘Confronting Obesity in Europe: Taking action to change the default setting’, has been published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). Commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ethicon, the report highlights the urgent need to develop effective strategies to address the burden of obesity on economies and healthcare systems across Europe.

The report interviewed key obesity experts including policymakers, academics and other stakeholders and highlights that prevention policies alone, are not enough to tackle the disease of obesity. In addition, the report stresses the importance of including more aggressive treatment measures for individuals that are already morbidly obese and could not benefit from prevention efforts.

Francesco Rubino

“I do not understand why people who have developed a disease due to a bad lifestyle shouldn’t be eligible for treatment,” said Professor Francesco Rubino, chair of metabolic and bariatric surgery, King’s College London, UK. “There is some sort of social cultural stigma that makes obesity different from any other disease we know.”

The report notes that the variations in obesity rates suggest the need for more targeted programmes. Not all countries in Western Europe are experiencing the epidemic in the same way, with rates appearing to plateau in recent years in countries such as the UK and Spain, at the same time as they are on the rise elsewhere. Moreover, national figures hide significant socioeconomic differences in obesity rates, with levels generally highest among the most deprived groups in society. This suggests the need for a better targeting of policy initiatives.

“If we use weight alone, we are basically making a conceptual mistake because we identify the disease with what is merely one of its symptoms,” added Rubino. “The bottom line is that as a medical and scientific community, we have a responsibility to come up with a much better definition of what obesity is. We also need to recognise that what we commonly refer to as ‘obesity’ is not a single disease, but indeed a number of conditions that have entirely different implications for health and life expectancy.”

‘Confronting Obesity in Europe: Taking action to change the default setting’, published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary, Ethicon. To download the report, please click on the image.

The European Organisation for the Study of Obesity (EASO) found direct costs of this disease across six European countries to range from 1.5% to around  7% of the total health expenditure, whilst a UK government report has estimated that obesity could account for 13% of health costs by 2050. In addition to this, obesity increases the risk of various life-threatening conditions, contributing to 75% of type 2 diabetes cases, 50% of incidents related to arterial hypertension and 33% of ischemic heart and stroke cases.

The report calls for new strategies to tackle obesity, noting the following conclusions:

  • A policy focus on prevention fails those that are already severely affected by obesity – Investment in a comprehensive approach is needed to tackling obesity via both prevention and treatment
  • Consistency is essential – Policy makers should share best practices to build comprehensive strategies across Europe
  • The leadership gap needs to be filled – Europe needs strong leaders who are not afraid to demand necessary investment or challenge outdated strategies
  • A coordinated and integrated approach is required – A variety of players from both the public and private sectors need to be involved to develop a holistic approach

“The report suggests that a more holistic and cost effective strategy is needed to tackle obesity, and we believe that bariatric surgery could play an important role here” said Silvia De Dominicis, Ethicon Franchise Lead EMEA. “What’s important now is that the member states of Europe collectively recognize that those suffering from obesity should be treated as patients. We hope that this report helps to open up an urgently needed broad dialogue with policymakers and shape the future of the obesity strategies. It’s time to act.”

A full copy of the EIU report and supporting materials, including an info-graphic, is available here

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