Obesity: A growing problem

On 27 November 2008, Dr David Haslam, Chairman of the UK's National Obesity Forum, gave a fascinating talk on obesity, its effects and options for prevention.

Dr Haslam opened by giving the audience an insight into how he came to be interested in obesity. While still a trainee doctor he met an obese man who dropped dead after a brief consultation over an unrelated matter in the doctors’ surgery car park. The assumption that it was simply ‘his time’ did not sit well with Dr Haslam and so his interest in prevention and understanding was established. In the UK, two thirds of men and half of women are overweight.

The direct cost to the NHS is over £500m and the indirect costs are over £2 billion. While the US is the fattest nation on earth, the UK is just ten years behind the US, and the increase in obesity is rising at almost exactly the same rate as in the US. If nothing changes, in ten years time the UK’s obesity problem will be exactly the same as in the US now.

Dr Haslam pointed out that fat itself is unlikely to kill, except for the grossly obese, at which point the heart is physically unable to pump blood around the body mass. It is the many other aspects of obesity that will kill you. Type 2 diabetes, heart attacks and the many other associated side effects are the major concerns with an increasingly obese population. The Body Mass Index (BMI) used to assess a person’s weight has shown that a BMI of 35 (which could be a 6ft man weighing 17 stone) will increase the chance of diabetes by 100 times. A reduction in weight of just 10% will lead to 30% reduction in the chance of diabetes, though diabetes itself makes weight loss more difficult.

Dr Haslam stressed the need for an active lifestyle. Many people have jobs that are physically undemanding and he said that it is better to walk to a bus stop, cycle to work, use the stairs when at work and try to raise activity levels in all aspects of your life and not necessarily to just go to the gym once a day. The key is a sustained level of activity throughout your daily life. The lecture proved to be very insightful and topical, interspersed with interesting anecdotes from Dr Haslam’s career as a GP.

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