Ireland has been criticised for having the lowest funding per capita for obesity treatment in Europe.
According to the Irish Society of Nutrition and Metabolism (IrSPEN), this lack of funding is directly linked to obesity not being recognised as a chronic disease in this country.
It insisted that because the HSE does not recognise that over a million people are living here with a treatable disease, this has led to a major shortage of public treatment and the development of a two-tier system.
"Those who cannot afford to pay privately have significantly less access to obesity treatment. IrSPEN is calling on the HSE to come into line with all our European partners and to make obesity treatments a part of universal public healthcare," commented IrSPEN spokesperson, Prof Carel le Roux.
He insisted that proven obesity treatments, both surgery and cost-effective medicines, should be available to all people based on need.
"By not providing treatments, the HSE ends up paying much more for the long-term complications of obesity. Existing ‘eat less and move more' public awareness programmes are important as prevention strategies, but once someone is obese, then this is ineffective for them. The 50,000 Irish children who are already obese need treatment," he said.
Meanwhile, according to consultant surgeon and IrSPEN member, Prof Helen Heneghan, Ireland has been at the forefront of developing cost-effective obesity treatments, yet these are not readily available here.
She also emphasised that blaming people for their obesity is an ineffective strategy.
"Blaming individuals as the sole cause of obesity is an ineffective and flawed strategy which leads to health disparities. Obesity is a response to biologically determined body weight regulation, and not gluttony or laziness.
"Relying on willpower and moral strength to change biology has not been an effective management strategy, and has resulted in an exponential increase in people with obesity," Prof Heneghan explained.
IrSPEN said that with effective treatment, the burden of obesity could be reversed or reduced as has been seen with other conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
"We have the cost-effective tools and the know-how to do this, all we need is a change of policy from the HSE coming into line with other healthcare systems across Europe. Also, the Department of Health already does recognise obesity as a disease, which is an anomaly," Prof le Roux added.
There are an estimated 650 million people living with obesity worldwide and this has tripled in the last four decades. The condition is particularly on the rise among children, those in lower and middle income households and those living in urban settings.
IrSPEN highlighted this issue as part of World Obesity Day (October 11).
*Picture courtesy of the World Obesity Federation
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