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Tackling Obesity: Governments Called to Action


The need to address rising levels of obesity and related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer, continues to grow.

There is a growing need to tackle rising levels of obesity and related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, and cancer, through government-sponsored, health-promoting policies, according to a new policy briefing issued by the International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO).

“In isolation, governments are reluctant to undertake market interventions, as they don’t want to be seen to restrict people’s freedoms. However, there is a good case for clear traffic-light labeling on products, for banning junk-food marketing to children, and for adjusting the existing subsidies and taxes to increase the consumption of healthier foods,” said IASO policy director Tim Lobstein, PhD.

“As obesity and consequent diseases put increasing strain on health services, governments will have no choice but to act. The sooner they start, the cheaper and more effective their actions will be.”

The policy briefing notes that the rapid rise in obesity prevalence worldwide indicates that diet and lack of physical activity are replacing tobacco as the leading cause of preventable disease and that the disease burden from obesity-related conditions is already putting health services under stress.

In a statement about the policy briefing released in mid-January, Dr Lobstein called on all governments to take a strong leadership stance on this issue. The IASO has issued a 10-point action plan that calls for governments to create health-promoting environments.

“This includes building the case for intervention, so that public health has a stronger voice in cross-government strategic planning. It means encouraging advocacy and developing social marketing campaigns to increase public support for population-wide interventions, and it means making a series of interventions in the marketplace to reduce over-consumption and protect consumer health,” the policy briefing states.

Industry lobbying power is significant and undermines public health, the briefing states. In 2012, more lobbyists were employed by the US food and beverage industry (327 lobbyists) than by the alcohol industry (256 lobbyists) or the tobacco industry (174 lobbyists) to influence the US Congress.

Government Must Take Action

The release of the policy briefing coincided with National Obesity Awareness Week, sponsored by the United Kingdom Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO), which noted that two-thirds of adults and one-third of children are overweight or obese. The ASO called on the UK government to take action to treat those persons currently affected by obesity and to transform the food environment to make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices.

Specifically, the ASO recommended that policymakers invest in the management of obesity by expanding the provision of specialist bariatric services and incentivizing general practitioners to take greater action to address obesity and to take action to control the marketing of energy-dense foods and sugary drinks, particularly to children.

GP Professor Paul Aveyard, Department of Primary Care, University of Oxford, said: “GPs could do much more to tackle obesity. We now know there are simple and cheap treatments that would help our patients lose weight and their health would improve. GPs worry that talking about weight will upset our patients, but our fears are largely groundless.”

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