National obesity treatment programme needed

Current treatments severely under-resourced
  • Deborah Condon

The Government is being urged to establish a national obesity treatment programme, to help reduce the burden of obesity-related diseases.

The call comes after new data revealed a 97% decrease in diabetes medication costs for people with obesity and difficult to control type 2 diabetes, who underwent obesity (bariatric) surgery in the last 12 months.

According to the Irish Society for Clinical Nutrition & Metabolism (IrSPEN) and the Association for the Study of Obesity in Ireland (ASOI), if current trends continue, by 2025, 33% of adults in Ireland will be obese and the annual cost of treating obesity-related diseases will be €2.1 billion.

Currently, obesity costs the State €1.13 billion per year and around one in 20 adults has an obesity-related illness, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and sleep apnoea.

IrSPEN and ASOI pointed out that the treatment of obesity is now relatively straightforward. Several evidence-based and effective treatments have been found to work by combining dietary support, therapeutic exercise and behavioural therapy with medication and surgical procedures.

However, treatments for obesity in Ireland are severely under-resourced at the two publicly funded adult regional obesity centres in Dublin and Galway, and the single childhood obesity centre in Dublin.

"Ireland has one of the lowest rates of obesity treatment in Europe, but one of the highest rates of obesity and difficult-to-control type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that a further 26,000 people have type 2 diabetes and receive insulin here and we need to address this with personalised treatment programmes, like dietary support, exercise, medication and surgery," commented IrSPEN board member, Prof. Carel le Roux, of the Diabetes Complications Research Centre at the Conway Institute in UCD.

He said that this new evidence confirms that the HSE ‘will recoup the cost of these surgeries within two years and will then go on to save millions on medication costs'.

Also speaking about the new data, bariatric surgeon, Ms Helen Heneghan, of St Vincent's Hospital and St Columcille's Hospital in Dublin, pointed out that obesity surgery ‘offers the most successful and cost effective option for the treatment of people with severe obesity and complications such as type 2 diabetes'.

"I see a high percentage of patients return to normal blood sugar control without the need for insulin or other medications within two days of surgery - improving their quality of life and substantially reducing long-term healthcare costs. We are facing an obesity crisis in Ireland and we need to invest in a national obesity treatment programme with dedicated resources as a matter of priority," she insisted.

Meanwhile according to ASOI board member, Dr Grace O'Malley of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, while efforts are being made in Ireland to prevent obesity, ‘little is being done to provide treatment to those who already suffer the consequences'.

"We urgently need a commitment from the Department of Health, the Department of Finance and the HSE to develop, implement and evaluate a national clinical programme for obesity that will provide suitable treatment for obesity to any child, adolescent or adult in need of such care. Healthcare professionals working tirelessly in primary, secondary and tertiary care settings urgently need support and resources in order to deliver such vital care," she said.

IrSPEN and ASOI, along with the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI), Diabetes Ireland, Safefood, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Policy Group on Obesity and the Irish Society for Chartered Physiotherapists (ISCP) are all calling on the Government to allocate funding for the establishment of a national obesity treatment programme, which would encompass evidence-based approaches, including personalised dietary support, therapeutic exercise, weight loss medication, behavioural therapies and surgery.

The organisations insisted that a national clinical obesity programme of this kind could reduce the burden of obesity-related diseases. The cumulative cost of not treating obesity in Ireland between now and 2025 will be over €15 billion, they added.

The organisations made their call ahead of World Obesity Day (October 11).


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