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How we tackle the obesity epidemic needs to change

4 March 2021
World Obesity Day 2021
On World Obesity Day our experts discuss policy change, research and treatment that aligns with this year's global theme "Every Body Needs Everybody."

Practical quality treatment and marketing restrictions needed

“When we live in a world that makes healthy eating and activity difficult, then it’s very easy for many of us – including our children - to put on excess weight.

Clearly, we need to prevent this from happening in the first place. For example, we need to restrict the marketing of unhealthy foods to children and adolescents and make healthy food and drink choices cheaper and more available.

Plus, we also need to provide good quality treatment for people living with obesity.”

Professor Louise Baur, Chair of Child & Adolescent Health, Faculty of Medicine and Health and a member of the Charles Perkins Centre 

Obesity and the dieting industry

“Regaining control of one’s weight and health is extremely challenging, especially in a 100 billion dollar dieting industry that is saturated with misleading information. People are not failing on their weight loss attempts long-term due to a lack of willpower, they are failing due to their biology, and this is where the education is lacking.

Our bodies are very good at fighting the weight loss to ensure we regain it and with this comes serious long-term physical and psychological repercussions. We need to move people away from the short-term fixation on dieting to evidence-based care that is focused on health. Just a small, but sustained weight loss, will result in reduced risk of disease and longer and happier lives.”

Dr Nick FullerCharles Perkins Centre and author of the Interval Weight Loss program.

Obesity management and treatment

“While prevention of obesity is vital, we also need to ensure that those already affected by obesity have access to treatment that is both safe and effective. Adolescent obesity is highly likely to persist into adulthood, and many obesity-related health problems are now diagnosed earlier in life.

“We know that there is no single approach that will effectively manage obesity for everybody. We need greater consideration of individual needs, so that treatments are tailored to the circumstances, priorities and needs of each person. That is why a range of evidence-based treatment approaches should be considered.

“Diet interventions and dietary approaches to adolescent obesity treatment should be delivered by trained professionals, such as Accredited Practising Dietitians, who can assess and monitor both physical and mental health during treatment.”

Dr Natalie Lister NHMRC Early Career Fellow, the University of Sydney Children’s Hospital Westmead Clinical School

Advocating for national clinical guidelines

“I love the theme for this World Obesity Day where we are globally calling on ‘every body to work together for happier, healthier and longer lives for everybody.’ We have learned the value of that in this last year.

In Australia today, we are advocating for national clinical guidelines for overweight and obesity and the need to move away from blaming individuals for the societal challenge of obesity. Shaming and blaming individuals doesn’t help but is harming many.

There are many drivers of obesity including strong social, biological and environmental factors, which are outside of people’s control. We need healthier environments for everyone and evidence-based clinical support for those that need and want it.”  

Tiffany Petre, Director of the Obesity Collective, based at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre

The Obesity Collective is a charity platform for committed individuals and organisations from across the community to take on the obesity challenge together, with empathy and a whole of society perspective.

Physical inactivity and obesity

“The obesity epidemic is the end result of not only people’s behaviours – the physical activity hostile environment in which we live and the dominance of ultra-processed foods in supermarkets’ aisles are also key drivers.

“In particular, the chronically low physical activity levels in post-industrial societies are a major driver of the epidemic.  Finding ways to re-engineer opportunities for individuals and communities to be physically active in everyday life is an essential part of any solution aimed at halting or reversing the obesity crisis.”

Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Medicine and Health co-chaired WHO’s Guidelines Development Group and led the adult physical activity sub-committee on the new WHO Guidelines on physical activity and sedentary behaviour.

Obesity and increased risk of severe COVID-19

“With this year’s World Obesity Day falling within the middle of a global pandemic it is important to acknowledge the data suggesting a link between obesity and poor COVID-19 outcomes.

“Two in three Australians are overweight or obese, conditions that markedly increase the risk of being admitted to intensive care and having poorer outcomes, including higher mortality, when infected with COVID-19.

Accumulating data strongly suggest that a reversible damage of the inner lining of the arteries (endothelial dysfunction), driven primarily by insulin resistance, and not obesity itself, is one of the main elements linking being obese with poor COVID outcomes.

Our studies show that even a small amount of caloric restriction, especially when combined with regular endurance exercise, can drastically and rapidly improve insulin sensitivity, lipid profile, blood pressure and reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of good health to many and could provide the opportunity for governments and clinicians to support people with obesity to make such changes to move towards better health.”

Professor Luigi Fontana from Charles Perkins Centre and Sydney Medical School (Central Clinical School).

Kobi Print

Media and PR Adviser (Medicine and Health)

Ivy Shih

Assistant Media and Public Relations Adviser (Health)

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