Dr Grace O’Malley, Senior Physiotherapist, Temple Street and Chair, ASOI (Association for the Study of Obesity in Ireland) highlights misconceptions related to obesity
New research launched for European Obesity Awareness Day 2015 shows widespread misconceptions about obesity and the lives it costs in Europe
Dublin, Friday, 15 May, 2015: Most people do not realise that obesity can reduce life expectancy as much as smoking tobacco, a new study has revealed.
The new research, marking European Obesity Awareness Day 2015, was launched by the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and highlights widespread and concerning misconceptions of obesity that are costing lives in Ireland and Europe.
The new study, ‘Obesity: an underestimated threat’, suggests a link between obesity as a growing public health challenge and serious widespread misconceptions about the nature, impact, causes and treatment of obesity. Dr. Grace O’Malley, Chair of ASOI (the Irish member group of EASO) and Chartered Physiotherapist in Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, said that the study highlights seven misconceptions related to obesity:
1. Less than 50% realise that obesity is considered to be a disease
“Obesity is increasingly recognised as a disease in health and scientific communities, but the majority of the general public are not aware of this ongoing debate. The general public perceive obesity to be predominantly associated with individual lifestyle choices and pay little regard to the role of factors such as genetics, medications, inadequate sleep, hormone imbalances or mental health.”
2. Many are not aware that obesity causes many serious illnesses
“Obesity significantly increases the risk of developing serious conditions such as cancer, stroke, heart disease and osteoarthritis, as well as conditions impacting quality of life such as sleep apnoea and low confidence– yet many people are unaware of these risks.”
3. 56% think that obesity is less dangerous than smoking tobacco
“Studies have shown that moderate and severe obesity (BMI 30-35 kg/m2 and >40 kg/m2 respectively) can reduce life expectancy by between 5 and 20 years which is comparable to the impact of tobacco smoking (10 years). Despite this, less than 50% recognized obesity as being as dangerous as smoking.”
4. Many European citizens believe that they and their loved ones are a healthy weight
“Many people misjudge their weight as being healthy. For example, in this study 20% of those describing themselves as a healthy weight were technically overweight and 30% of those who described themselves as overweight were technically obese. Recent surveys have shown that parents frequently underestimate the weight of their children. There is much controversy about how we classify obesity (e.g body mass index) and the words we use (overweight/obesity) may be confusing to the general public.”
5. More than 80% underestimate the importance of an overall approach to maintaining a healthy weight
“The study shows nearly one in five takes no action to achieve a healthy weight, and even fewer monitor their calorie intake. Few participants believed that monitoring alcohol intake (23%), hydration (25%) and sleep (30%) were effective ways to maintain a healthy weight. We should also realise that maintaining health does not just hinge on the choices and responsibility of the individual who is obese. Our current environment is considered obesogenic (e.g. the availability of high fat/high sugar products; large portion sizes and a dependency on inactive travel) and the Government has a duty of care to each and every citizen to safegaurd population health. In order to tackle obesity, widespread prevention strategies are required particularly with regard to ensuring the availability of affordable healthy nutritious food and clean drinking water. In addition if we are to take this situation seriously, reducing the promotion of cheap products being sold as ‘food’ will be necessary.”
6. Most participants thought that diet and exercise are almost always the best ways to treat obesity
“Improving nutrition and increasing physical activity are key elements to being a healthy weight and also help to reduce the associated co-morbidities like high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Such lifestyle treatments should be tailored to the individual patient, taking into consideration the factors which have caused their obesity, their age and the presence of co-morbidities such as breathing problems, type-2 diabetes or osteoarthritis. However, in certain cases – particularly for people with severe obesity – additional treatments are needed. Additional treatments might include medication, ongoing psychological support, surgery, or any combination of these.”
7. Over 60% believe that national health systems should not pay for obesity surgery
“Treating obesity with surgery can help treat diseases such as type-2 diabetes and can improve quality of life while also reducing long-term healthcare costs. However, surgical procedures are suitable for a small percentage of individuals with obesity. Development of such bariatric services within the Irish health system is necessary but these should be developed in tandem with a systematic approach to overall management. Similarly, the implementation of multisectoral prevention strategies are urgently needed as there is no single magic bullet to solving this wicked problem. Strategies which should be implemented and evaluated include:i) taxes on high fat / high sugar / calorie-intense products and subsidies for nutritious healthy food; ii) restrictions of the marketing of the unhealthy products; iii) support of “active travel” initiatives such as cycle lanes, green spaces, safe and adequately lit public spaces,; iv) helpful food labelling and menu calorie labelling; and v) food reformulation.
Overweight and obesity are a growing threat to the health of our society. Data from 2010 shows that 74% of Irish men are overweight, and 26% obese. A 2014 model estimated that this can be expected to rise to 89% and 48% respectively by 2030. While these are forecasts and not without limitations, they are startling figures, and they suggest that each and every Irish citizen should consider what they can do to demand a healthier society for all regardless of shape or size.
For further information contact:
Glen McGahern, 0861940057
About ‘Obesity: The underestimated threat’
Obesity: The Underestimated Threat is a survey of over 14,000 people in seven European countries which seeks to understand public perceptions of obesity. The survey was conducted by independent strategic insight agency Opinium, in collaboration with the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO) and with the support of Medtronic.
About projected increases in obesity
A 2014 study modelled trends in obesity in multiple countries: ‘The future burden of obesity-related diseases in the 53 WHO European-Region countries and the impact of effective interventions: a modelling study.’
About European Obesity Awareness Day
European Obesity Awareness Day is an annual awareness day launched in 2010 by medical, patient and political communities to support overweight and obese European citizens to raise awareness of the need for action at European level and to ensure that the voices of overweight and obese patients are heard.
Profile of Dr. Grace O’Malley
Dr O’Malley is the Chair of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the Island of Ireland (ASOI) which is the Irish representative body at the European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO). Grace is a Chartered Physiotherapist and has a PhD in Public Health and Epidemiology. She directs the Temple Street W82GO Healthy Lifestyles Service at Temple Street Children’s University Hospital and is actively engaged in National and International research projects exploring ways to prevent and treat obesity and related co-morbidities.
Temple Street, founded in 1872 is an acute paediatric hospital serving some of Ireland’s sickest children and providing a referral and care service on both a regional and national basis. Seven major specialities at Temple Street today include neonatal and paediatric surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, nephrology, orthopaedics, ENT and plastic surgery. The Hospital is also the national centre for paediatric ophthalmology, the national craniofacial centre, the national airway management centre, the national meninogococcal laboratory, the national centre for inherited metabolic disorders and the national screening centre. Temple Street cares for 145,000 children per year. A staff of 85 Consultants and over 950 other full time and part time nursing, paramedical and other staff deliver care. The new children’s hospital – for which a planning application is being lodged this summer – will merge three existing children’s hospitals – Temple Street Children’s University Hospital, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and the paediatric services at Tallaght Hospital. The new children’s hospital – which will be co-located on one campus with St James’s Hospital and, ultimately, tri-located with a maternity hospital – is expected to be completed in mid-2019, with the transition of services commencing at that time.