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 372.

    250.bobbgooduk - ".......Your longitudinal study sounds like pseudoscience babble to justify your OWN viewpoint."

    Far from it - your ignorance (in common with the majority of UK citizens) of how science works is the only babble being spoken between the two of you......not understanding something does not automatically mean it is not genuine, it just means you don't understand it.......

  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    We do not tolerate interference from family members in how we choose to live our lives, yet we allow politicians, and now doctors, free rein to do so.
    I propose a cull.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Yes, having these firms sponsor the Olympic Games is patently ridiculous. Of course it is.
    I strongly believe that individual National Insurance payment rates should vary depending on the lifestyle of each individual. Those who live in a manner which is likely to see them requiring a good deal of State funding to treat self-inflicted ailments in later life should pay higher NI contributions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    They can unite all they like, it won't stop another mouthful going into my mouth.

    How dare they dictate to us."

    Fine, so long as you don't come running to the NHS when you need expensive treatment for the conditions resulting from obesity: type II diabetes, joints wearing out, heart and circulatory diseases and many other conditions that directly result from obesity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    What about personal responsibility? What about positive body image for children rather than filling 'fashion' magazines with skeletal models while telling them that obesity is 'epidemic'? Marilyn Monroe was a size 16 (US Size 12) and we must remember the Olympics is not about sport - it's about money, money, money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    You walk into your kitchen. You're hungry.

    You have two choices in front of you: A lovely, yummy, creamy bar of cool milk chocolate or a microwave-steamed floret of hot cauliflower.

    Sometimes it's tough being human.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    There's a lot of things that harm us & could be taxed for 'our good'. What about personal freedom? I don't much like MacDonalds but if I want one I'll have one & not be taxed for it.

    If the govt want to save some lives stop sending our children to die in other countries. Roadside bombs are also dangerous to health and quite avoidable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    Painful as it may be, the reason that people are fat is because they eat too much for the energy the expend, end of story.
    Unfortunately it is scientifically impossible to create fat from fresh air, were it so then we could solve the energy crisis.
    Suprisingly Australia has the same % of obese people pro rata as us.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    More research needs to be done by scientists before the medics act. Many factors influence obesity, not just gluttony. Epigenetics, antibiotic use changes gut flora, no competitiveness or school sports, hormone analogue pollutants, thyroid disorders, psychiatric illness, and more. Every case of obesity has an individual cause and needs an individual treatment. There is no blanket solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    @340. Oldskool-90: "If you buy berries in the middle of winter, flown 5000 miles, what do you expect?"

    No, those are the current prices. I believe spring is strawberry season. Cost of apples is still high all year. Cost of anything except carrots, onions, potatoes- all higher than junky equivalents. Lots of it has 'Best of British' etc labels on. Meanwhile, 30 packets of crisps = punnet of plums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    They can unite all they like, it won't stop another mouthful going into my mouth.

    How dare they dictate to us.

    This is about one thing and one thing only. Money. They want to save it and they want to make more of it all in the one go.

    Yet another attack on our freedom by the all controlling men in suites

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Obesity is a huge problem, and getting more so. I live in France where the size of children is also worrying as more junk food is invading daily life. However, every few years I return to the UK where it seems there are more 'super fat' people every time I visit.

    15 years ago a 'super obese' person was rare - now it isn't even noticed.

    Unfortunately there is only one real option - eat less

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    i buy lots of fresh foods, i try to eat healthily but this adds £20-£30 to my weekly shopping bill for a family of 4

    unfortunately wages are staying the same or lower and everything else is going up

    not everyone can afford it and what about 'special diets' i have kidney disease i am not allowed hardly any fresh veg and fruit because i have to keep my potassium level as low as possible

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    I live in a poorer part of East London where there is a prevalence of fried chicken shops. You can easily & quickly feed a family of six for less than a tenner with the deals they offer there. You can also get a hot and satisfying lunch for a quid, which is why they are jammed during the school lunch hour. What alternative can be given to those who lack the skill, time & money for healthy eating?

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    Marlonsmum wrote:

    'how naive to say you can eat Burger King every day but work out and still be healthy. It's NOT about eating junk and getting to the gym but the quality of what you put into your body"

    Nothing "naive" about it so long as you don't have an uninformed and irrational view towards the quality of fast food. Besides, I was addressing the weight issue.

  • Comment number 357.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    So often, those whose bodies have spread sideways to revolting proportions are those creaming off state benefits. Trying to educate these types is a waste of effort and money. They'd drive, rather than walk, 100 yards.

    Rather than cash handouts, these people should be given vouchers with their names on them that can only be exchanged for healthy foodstuffs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    All food has a calorific value. The average male adult requires around 2200 cals per day, females 1900 cals, add a few veg and fruit to the mix and you have a healthy diet. Brisk walking exercise 3 times a week is sufficient to improve fitness. Food promotion and programming should be limited to 1 hour/day/TV channel or banned like tobacco. Man vs Food and food has the T-shirt at the moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    Why is that skinny models get the blame for anorexic girls behaviour while fat celebrities are beyond criticism?

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    We need carrots (not cakes) and sticks to deal with the obese. If someone's obesity gives him a bad back he can get state handouts. This is a nonsense. Cut handouts for benefit claimants who eat too much and exercise too little.


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