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 392.

    Just wondering when choice of the individual comes into it. We are vastly becoming a Country that legislates and form laws all too easily to 'encourage' people to live a certain way.

    The irony of fast food associating themselves to sporting events are clear but I'm not anymore likely to purchase fast food because of it and the same applied to the display/marketing of cigarettes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    It is genuinely difficult to find any packaged food in a supermarket which doesn't include sugar in the ingredients.
    It's no good telling people not to eat so much of it when it permeates virtually every food sector.
    Baked beans, Canned fish, even so-called "healthy mueslis" often contain 'natural cane extract'...

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    I would advise that the state medical profession doesn't make an enemy of the public

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    @ rossanojennings... I too live in a poorer part of East London where there is also a prevalence of cheap corner shops as well as fried chicken shops, most of which sell fresh fruit and veg from well before until well after work hours. An alternative to fried chicken is instead buying fresh food and cooking for yourself. A lot of skill isn't needed, nor is more money. Time? That's just an excuse.

  • Comment number 388.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    Teaching people how to cook food from scratch as it is far cheaper than ready meals & jars of ready made sauces would be a start. Also, making people more aware of whats in their food and drink and its effects.

    The Change4life leaflets were a good idea in principle but being written by a well off chef resulted in expensive recipies in a patronising format.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    @374 Peter Young. As kids, my generation (70's) stuffed ourselves with sweets every day, and then probably had fried food for tea. Fat people were relatively uncommon. There is much more to it than the second law of thermodynamics. You can eat a relatively normal amount of healthy food and still get fat now. Fat people could diet all their lives (and some have to) but it doesn't address the issue

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    I believe that obesity is largely preventable. Cut out fatty foods, increase consumption of fruit, vegetables and nuts, limit your intake of sugar and take regular physical activity. That being said, people must have access to a healthy lifstyle such as making sports facilities and gyms affordable. At the end of the day it`s down to the individual to want to do something about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    Is there any truth in the rumour that Eric Pickles has put his weight behind the newly branded Medium Society?

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    @86. Rachel, I don't agree with you. The serious health risks associated with obesity are clear and unequivocal. We all have the choice of whether to exercise some self control in regards to what we eat/drink. As for exercise, adults and children can safely run, walk or cycle in local parks. You can also buy home gym equipment if you're concerned about exercising safely outisde of the home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    This is horrible, maybe if people took a bit of time out of their life to learn a hobby, like the site below, we wouldn't have this problem.
    guitar lessons

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    Genuine medical conditions account for 18% or so of obesity, the vast majority is due to overconsumption. The obese tend to consume three times as many calories as recommended. This MUST cost significant money, so the argument about being unable to afford 'real' food is VERY difficult to validate. No matter, obesity is a killer regardless of how one came to be that way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    Now it appears we are going to have an additional tax on food we already pay vat, how long before we are taxed on the air we breath, lets face it theres not much left to tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    No disrespect to doctors but all this talk of being united is nonsense. Some of them took a handful of silver and sold their soul to ATOS Health care. Hippocratic oath my bottom ..........

  • rate this

    Comment number 378.

    Plain packaging is the answer they are debating doing it to cig's etc, why not to coca cola & mc D's ha ha......

  • rate this

    Comment number 377.

    Individuals who need NHS treatment as a direct consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle (overeating, no exercise, alcohol/drug abuse will need private health insurance to cover it.
    Cheaper healthy food should be subsidised by a more expensive junk food.
    After that the choice is yours:-
    Die young and don't claim your pension.
    Live long and we'll spend your pension for you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 376.

    Marlonsmum wrote:

    "It's possible to lose weight and keep it off for life by making the right food choices and not having to run an hour every day."

    The "right food choices" for maintaining a slim weight is limiting caloric intake.

    "Exercise brings benefits that don't always relate just to weight loss."

    Obviously, but such remarks have nothing to do with what I said. Read more carefully.

  • rate this

    Comment number 375.

    Being one of those "obese" people, In 2 mths i've lost over 2st, went from no exercise to 45-70 mins running every day. What started me off: Woody harelson in friends with benefits:
    my guidebook is simple: YOU WANNA LOSE WEIGHT? Stop eating, fatty! YOU WANNA MAKE MONEY? Work you ass off, lazy! YOU WANNA BE HAPPY? Find someone you like and never let em go!
    Works for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 374.

    If you stuff yourself with food you get fat,simples.
    When calories "in" exceed calories "out" you expand.

  • Comment number 373.

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


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