Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

Education is better than an operation for obesity

Losing weight and eating healthily cuts the risk of developing dementia or disability, experts say
Losing weight and eating healthily cuts the risk of developing dementia or disability, experts say

A consultation is currently taking place to decide whether gastric band surgery should be offered to more people in the UK.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that obese people with type 2 diabetes – often a consequence of carrying too much weight – should be offered the procedure.

NICE also wants to reduce the threshold body mass index for gastric band operations so that more people can benefit.

The move could save the health service serious money in its fight to combat the obesity epidemic.

According to NICE, obesity rates have doubled over the last 10 years. Scarily, they're continuing to rise, with many young people among those affected. The consultation offers NICE and the health service two bleak options: spend millions on drastic operations, or more millions treating people suffering from life-threatening, obesity-induced conditions. What a depressing choice.

Obesity hasn't increased due to a lack of information about the dangers of being overweight. On the contrary, campaigns such as Change4Life from the health service have been hard to avoid.

Most of the advice that's available is pretty obvious – eat healthily, do some moderate exercise and so on. Most obese people will be able to tell you what they should be doing to lose weight.

So where's the missing link? The clue could lie in a reticence to criticise different body types.

US teenager Sam Newman, a US size 24, posted an Instagram of herself in her underwear to send the message "fat isn't a bad word". She got a lot of sympathy. This is where we're going wrong. When you're clinically obese – which a size 24 is – fat is a bad word, because that fat could cause an awful lot of problems.

The idea that we should all be thin is ridiculous, but so is reinforcing the notion that it's okay to be overweight in a bid to accept everyone's appearance.

We're missing the point. Weight isn't about appearance, it's about health, and refocusing on this point could help to stem the obesity crisis.

So there's a third choice for NICE to consider: educate the population with a stronger, bolder message that takes weight away from appearance and back towards health and then offer real support – financial, physical and emotional – to those needing to change their lifestyles.

It's easier and cheaper to deliver that than to perform horrendous surgery en masse.

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