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 92.

    78, I just have to hope that you are joking . . .

    67: Fast food shops flourish because people like them and use them. Nobody is forced to cross the threshold.

    The tax system is meant to raise revenue, not to indulge in social engineering. As for "promoting exercise" - get off my back. My spare time is MY spare time and not the property of Nanny State.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    I personally am sick to the back teeth of the government and doctors picking on specific groups of people to villify in the press.

    It's bait and switch propaganda

    Number of doctors per 10,000 population

    Cuba 65
    Greece 60

    Britain 27

    Doctors would be far more useful if they united to combat the shortage of UK doctors in the NHS

    The government is paying Doctors lots of money to keep quiet

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    The problem today, portions are bigger and our expectations of a meal is something twice the size of the mid 1900's.
    4oz (100g) of meat was the average portion, today people eat a big mac and chips as a snack, then go home to a double size meal as well. On top of this the biscuits, cakes, chocky bars etc.
    I'm no saint as I too am overweight and understand why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    We seem to have a plethora of professors and economists in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    As usual, £££ over people. I was excited about the olympics initially but the closer it gets and the more we learn the less I care. Also, there's growing evidence to suggest a lot of the so-called 'safe' chemicals and additives put in our 'low fat' and 'low calorie' products actually reduce the ability to work off fats and increase the risk of obesity. I wonder why they're allowed..££££$$$$

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    YouknowIamright, comment 63

    You suggest that its 'all in the genes'?

    Does that mean in the late 60's and early 70's when I was growing up AND in to the early 80's that everyone had different genes? Because, trust me, there were no where near the amount of fat people around then as there are now. Your argument is I'm afraid flawed in quite a few areas, putting on fat for winter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    I feel we live in a society of mixed messages. We are advised to eat better, but companies are allowed to adulturate food with chemicals and unhealthy fillers in order to maximise profit at the expense of its customers. We should exercise more but children are legislated from cycling on safe pavements and adults must fight with traffic to walk or cycle. It all seems upside down to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Thank goodness I'm not the only one to see the irony of Macdonalds and Coca Cola etc. sponsoring sporting events. It speaks volumes about the Olympic committee that they accept such payments. Does anyone even remember that the true spirit of the Olympics is amateurism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    McDonalds sposoring the olympics does not make me want to go out & eat a McDonalds. I am overweight because I eat too much, however I do eat my 5 a day, I cook regularly healthy meals...I just eat too big portions. However I am healthy, & rarely ill. I see people who eat junk, biscuits, cakes, takeaways yet because they stay a healthy weight they get no comments, yet are often ill!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    I personally am sick to the back teeth of the government and doctors picking on specific groups of people to villify in the press. First it was the smokers and now it is the over weight. What ever happened to freedom of choice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    If reducing food intake didn't work, neither would gastric bands. It "IS" primarily calorie intake/ exercise ratio. Look how much calorie intake gets burned on an arctic expedition.

    If the NHS really want people to sit up and take notice, sort your staff out. I see a greater ratio of obese people in NHS than elsewhere. If NHS staff don't act on it, how do you expect Joe Public to take notice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    post 63 cont.
    If you have the obese FTO gene losing weight is exceedingly difficult, if not impossible. Even someone slim has enough body fat to last them nearly a month. There have been medical studies where some have not 'eaten' for over a year and still only lost 15st, less than half their weight.
    Stigmatising the fat population is not necessarily fair, dieting/exercise is only a partial cure

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @74, I dont think this is because benefits are more generous, but there are a lot of people out there that only know easy convenience food, that is cheap and high in fat and carbs. Some younger women simply CANT cook proper food, but they CAN sit there all day watching Jeremy Kyle.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    The companies that sell junk food and drinks are so powerful that Govt's don't dare upset them. So, they peddle their unhealthy 'food' without restriction.
    Also, the people who buy the fatty, salty, sugary foods are easily swayed by the glossy ads - they are overwhelmed by the choice on offer, consume blindly and get fat.
    We are far too tolerant of the big food companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    All food deemed fattening & without much nutritional value should only be accessible by use of a pedal-powered vending machine. This would be an incentive for people to either not buy this food and go for a healthier alternative, or, if they are going to buy it, at least they will have worked off the calories before hand. Plus this would save money on electricity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    A_Sensible_Bloke said:

    So you decided to have a baby without being able to afford to properly care for it..?

    No I was pregnant before my partner had a wage decrease because of the recession an before they put our benefit down, Im not that stupid but clearly you are when you call yourself A_Sensible_Bloke when you have no idea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Dear Agony Aunt,
    Some of my best friends and family are obese.I love them and don't want to lose them prematurely.Some already have diabetes. As I have a tendancy to be a bit cheeky,can you suggest any more appropriate ways of helping them to eat less ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    A recurring comment is that people need education, no they just need reminding that more calories going in than being used equals weight increase. The greater the difference, the greater the increase. Either consume less calories or use up more. Simples
    The supermarkets could help by reducing the price of sugar free products relative to the standard product.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    33.Name number 6
    >>>Apparently your more likely to be overweight if your badly educated and in poorly paid work or unemployed. Does this suggest benefits are too generous, how can they afford such fatty food?

    Irony of your spelling aside....
    I don't see your point. Fatty foods are very often cheaper (or made to appear cheaper - there is a difference) than healthy alternatives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    People have individual responsibility , they make their own choices ... successive governments have tightened and tightened controls over cigarettes , they want to do the same with alcohol , yet the biggest health risk to our society they havent addressed . Even in schools which they can control it took Jamie Oliver to shame the government . There is no strong strategy there needs to be .


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