Doctors unite to combat obesity

A quarter of UK adults is thought to be obese Obesity is the "single greatest" threat to health, say the doctors

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Organisations representing nearly every doctor in the UK have united in a single campaign to tackle rising levels of obesity.

The campaign will start by reviewing the case for fat taxes, promoting exercise, restricting food advertising and other measures.

They criticised sponsorship of the Olympics by fast food firms as sending "the wrong message".

The Department of Health said it was taking action to combat obesity.

A spokesman for the campaign, Prof Terence Stephenson, said the government's current strategy of "partnering" food firms in order to tackle obesity "might be seen as counter-intuitive".

Almost a quarter of adults in the UK are thought to be obese and some predictions suggest half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020, with Prof Stephenson saying they were "storing up problems for the future".

Start Quote

This won't be just another report that sits on the shelf and gathers dust”

End Quote Prof Sir Neil Douglas Academy of Royal Medical Colleges

"This is a huge problem for the UK. It's much bigger than HIV was, much bigger than swine flu."

The Royal Medical Colleges and Faculties represent some 200,000 doctors across all specialities, from GPs to paediatricians and surgeons to psychiatrists.

They have described their campaign as an "unprecedented" union - as part of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AoMRC) - on an issue of public health.

AoMRC spokesman Prof Stephenson said: "Every doctor I've ever spoken to feels obesity is a huge problem for the UK population."

He said a united voice had "more of a chance" of tacking obesity.

Woman Cutting food intake, rather than exercise alone, is the key to not becoming obese, doctors say

The first phase of the campaign will try to find out what works. It will review evidence for diets, exercise, taxation, minimum pricing, changing advertising and food labelling, which medical procedures work and how children are educated.

Recommendations could target food companies who sponsor major sporting events - such as the Olympics - and fast food outlets which operate close to schools.

Prof Stephenson said allowing companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds to sponsor the London 2012 Olympics "sends the wrong message."

"They clearly wouldn't be spending the money if they didn't benefit from being associated with successful athletes," he said.

A McDonald's spokesperson said the Olympics was "the biggest catering operation in the world," adding: "Sponsorship is essential to the successful staging of the Olympics."

Smoking parallels

Prof Stephenson told the BBC a campaign to persuade people to eat healthy food might work in the same way as the current anti-smoking drive.

There have been heavy restrictions on advertising smoking in the UK, on TV and at sports events, and a consultation is being launched on whether cigarettes should be sold in plain packaging.

"It's much more likely, as in smoking, that the solution will lie in changing the environments, changing the way people are exposed to marketing, advertising and pressures to buy these kinds of foods," he said.

"Another aspect of that is the taxation of cigarettes to deter people from buying them - that seems something we should look at in relation to food," he said.

Dr Tony Goldstone, an obesity expert at London's Hammersmith Hospital, explains what fat is

However, Prof Stephenson said he did not think society could simply exercise its way out of the problem of obesity.

"My own personal experience is you have to exercise a huge amount to lose weight, I would have to run on a treadmill at maximum speed for an hour to counter-effect the calories from one or two Mars bars.

"Most people in modern life just don't have the time in our lives to spend several hours a day exercising."

These are not the final recommendations of the doctors groups. The plan is to spend the next three months gathering the evidence.

The Department of Health said it welcomed the colleges' "emphasis on obesity as this is one of our key public health priorities," and highlighted the change4life campaign to encourage healthier living, and the "responsibility pledge" by some food and drink companies to improve public health.

A spokesman added: "We are committed to identifying the best possible evidence of what works in tackling obesity which everyone across the country has a role to play in and we look forward to seeing the evidence of the Royal Colleges inquiry."

Prof Stephenson said there was nothing wrong with the government working with food manufacturers to improve public health "but to rely on the industry seems counterintuitive".

Prof Sir Neil Douglas, chair of the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, said: "This won't be just another report that sits on the shelf and gathers dust. It will form the bedrock of our ongoing campaigning activity.

"We are absolutely determined to push for whatever changes need to happen to make real progress in tackling obesity - which is why we're casting the net wide to get input from a range of organisations and individuals."

While doctors say the vast majority of cases stem from lifestyle, there are some medical conditions and medications which can lead to weight gain.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    I was brought up in the 80's in a family of 5, with virtually NO money! BUT we ate well, my mum was taught how to cook properly at school and by her own mum. Our meals were made from scratch, they were made to stretch over several days, and we all ate sensible portions. None of us were overweight, we learned to cook on low budget properly with real food, I still do now for my kids, it can be done!

  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    There are so many things at work causing people to be overweight; in fact our evolutionary heritage drives us to become overweight to protect us from famine. Ironically, the evolutionary survival advantage that enables many of us to gain weight so easily in times of plentiful food supply now gives rise to a lower life expectancy. This complexity means there is no "one size fits all" solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    err which country do you live in? Have you tried Africa, North Korea, USA, the Gulf States, Zimbabwe, Sudan, China - shall I go on? For pity's sake get a grip and see a doctor - you're not well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    619.thelostdot - "......a decadent unfair country will kill us not a few fat people."

    Whilst I agree with much of what you said the issue here is not a few fat people, but the millions of them, that are the problem & they will kill themselves - a fat tax alone won't help but could easily be part of the solution.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.


    The govt. should take responsibility? Why? Because people eat too much of the wrong type of foods and don't exercise enough? Utter nonsense!

    Individuals and parents are the ones that should be taking responsibility.

    Just another lame excuse to blame the govt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    Philjer: Delighted to learn that City of London Police are hot on butt-droppers. Now look at the world outside the Square Mile.

    By food fascism I mean trying to use governmental power to determine what people eat. That is a form of fascism and it concerns food.


  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    I note that moderators here do not care about people who just insult posters! It is a symptom of the countries state of mind that it constantly tries to focus on unimportant things like being a bit overweight, while it ignores the more serious problems that need to be dealt with. It is deeply sad, and a pointer to poor self discipline to insult someone because you disagree with their viewpoint.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    And what about those who are overweight due to illness...There are many, that Doctors admit they can do nothing about. Its not all fried foods and no exercise. Beleive me I know

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    @607. Andy The Thinker
    "... there is no alternative to the individual being measured with calipers, weighed, and their blood sugar, blood pressure and colesterol levels being assessed by a doctor."

    I beg to differ old boy................Try a full length mirror.

    The old "Mark 1 eyeball".

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    589. callisto: 'I am marginally overweight. I am told that I am clinically obese'. This is exactly why BMI is inadequate:

    'In our results, BMI showed an unacceptable low sensitivity for detecting body fatness, with more than half of obese subjects (by body fat measurement) being labeled as normal or overweight by BMI'
    NIH 2008.

    Body Fat Percentage is the better measure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    thelostdot = lost plot what are you on about?

    The chip on your shoulder seems bigger than the ones too many people have been consuming!

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    ...pt2. This isn't the right approach but rather a classical misinformation. People are intelligent enough to know the truth and accept it. They need to be shown how to do things right instead campaigning against which in the end creates frustration and a sense of defeat.We need to help them understand the nature of this trap... I highly recommend a film PEACE

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    609 "About time govt. took SOME responsibility."

    For what, for Pete's sake? For what I put on my plate? For whether or not I walk enough?

    Orwell's nightmare was better than this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 619.

    Personal insults are something to be proud of June? I see around me everywhere an almost farcical country that has become so engrossed in treating groups of people differently it affects more than being a bit fat. Bankers have to be wooed with money, but everybody else has to be beaten with a stick. It won't do, a decadent unfair country will kill us not a few fat people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    ''...half of children will be obese or overweight by 2020...''

    Poor diet is a factor but lack of exercise is the main problem. Computer games, the internet and TV are many childrens preferred leisure activities.

    Doctors can't change this - its parents that need to wake up and stop their blessed little ones sitting on their backsides all day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    607.Andy The Thinker - "........Exercise, eat healthy. Simple."

    That is only 2/3 of the story, it is not that simple - I know lots of over weight people who do just that, but they eat huge portions, often enough each to feed by myself & my better half.

    Huge portions of healthy food still contain too many calories......

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    "607. Andy The Thinker
    I can make a meal for 4 people (with meat or poultry) for the price of one large donner kebab."

    I suspect that the above comment is absolute nonsense! However, I am willing to listen if Andy can tell us exactly what the meal is and how it comes to less than the price of a kebab.

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    Doctors unite?, in what? a campaign against? to me this smeels like a defeat. No one has ever gained anything by campaignning against something, the gain than is only a temporary illusion, a form of mirage. What is needed is the truth, pure & simple, not a kind of coke is bad but lucozade along with other "natural" blue flavoured sports drinks are fine just b'cause sportsman do it...pt1

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    Neanderthals, the subspecies of Homo sapiens, were overweight just as modern humans are.Genetic evidence suggests interbreeding took place with anatomically modern humans between roughly 80,000 and 50,000 years ago in North Africa, Europe or Western Asia, resulting in 1–4% of the genome of people from Eurasia having been contributed by possibly obese/overweight Neanderthals. McDinoburger anyone!

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    Eat less move around more. It works 100% every time.


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