Is obesity a lifestyle choice or a disease?
There are calls to reclassify obesity as a disease amid growing concerns.
The Royal College of Physicians’ appeal comes after alarming new figures over sugar consumption were published.
Obesity should be recognised as a disease rather than a lifestyle choice in order to be better tackled by the health sector, industry officials have said.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) said it was necessary to see those who are very overweight recognised by the Government in order to receive specialist care in an effort to combat obesity.
Obesity is thought to affect around one in every four adults in the UK, and roughly one in five children aged 10 to 11.
The call comes a day after Public Health England (PHE) found children have on average already consumed more sugar than the maximum amount recommended for an 18-year-old by the time they reach their 10th birthday.
And in adults, a recent report from Cancer Research UK said obesity was such a growing problem that it could overtake smoking as the biggest preventable cause of cancer in women by 2043.
Outlining plans to reclassify obesity as a disease, RCP president Professor Andrew Goddard said: “It is important to the health of the nation that we remove the stigma associated with obesity.
“It is not a lifestyle choice caused by individual greed, but a disease caused by health inequalities, genetic influences and social factors.
“It is governments, not individuals, which can have an impact on the food environment through regulation and taxation, and by controlling availability and affordability.
“Governments can also promote physical activity by ensuring that facilities are available to local communities, and through legislation and public health initiatives.”
Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said any move recognising obesity as a disease would chime with international classification and was therefore “very welcome but 20 years overdue”.
But he said he was concerned some obese people would therefore “blame their genes” rather than change their diet.
He added: “What worries me greatly however is that obese people will now blame their genes for their condition and continue to feast on the food that made them fat.
According to PHE, in 2015 63% of adults were classed as being overweight (which requires a Body Mass Index of 25-29.9) or obese, where the BMI is 30 to 39.9.
The RCP said it wants to see obesity recognised as an ongoing chronic disease to allow the creation of formal healthcare policies to improve care both in doctors’ surgeries and hospitals, and so that significant and far-reaching preventative measures can be put in place.
As well as encouraging prevention, treatment and greater empathy with patients, the RCP wants “to see a change to public discourse about obesity, so that those with the condition are no longer blamed for it”.
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