Europe is facing a "major health and social burden" as the obesity epidemic reaches crisis point, experts warned.
Governments, whose health ministers have already signed the ‘European Charter’ pledging to halt the rise in obesity by 2015, must now back more intensive research programmes, and gear up to cope with the scale of the epidemic, which is damaging quality of life and reducing life expectancy.
The challenge came as the latest developments in obesity research were unveiled by leading international scientists attending the 15th European Congress on Obesity taking place in Budapest, Hungary, from April 22-25, 2007.
Almost 2,500 obesity specialists across the broad spectrum of research from basic science to clinical treatment and public health are gathering to assess new data presented from scientific studies undertaken in 74 countries around the world.
Launching the meeting with Congress chair, Professor László Halmy, president of the Hungarian Society for the Study of Obesity, and Congress co-chair Professor Péter Jákó, Professor Vojtech Hainer, president of the
European Association for the Study of Obesity (EASO), called for a new approach and an end to discrimination in dealing with obese people.
“Obesity should be treated within the health care system as any other complex disease with emphathy and without prejudice,” said Prof Hainer.
Special attention was needed in Eastern Europe where obesity rates are among the highest and particularly to the alarming increase in childhood obesity. In Budapest members of EASO will be assessing the results of a survey conducted across 28 countries examining the state of medical care for obesity and the size of the problem.
Significant gaps in medical services with few doctors receiving adequate training to cope with the rising number of patients in need of management for overweight and obesity are revealed in the preliminary results of a survey of obesity experts released today.
Access to services varies widely for European citizens with greater per capita provision reported in Romania and some countries in Eastern Europe than in the United Kingdom.
In many countries, obese patients depend mostly on untrained GPs or other physicians (eg. internists, cardiologists, gynaecologists), with no specialised expertise in obesity management.
The survey, conducted among 28 members of the European Association for the Study of Obesity, found that only in a few countries such as Czech Republic, Georgia, Serbia (and Israel) are obese patients directed towards specialist physicians for management and treatment.
Importantly the survey also reveals that facilities for paediatric obesity are limited in many countries with few paediatricians with special training in obesity management.
The level of specialised provision is greatest in Romania where there are 41 local state-run obesity management centres, with Finland, Portugal and Greece also having more centres. The survey does not indicate how easy it is to access these facilities nor how many obese patients are treated.
The survey suggests that the United Kingdom has some of the poorest provision for obesity treatment in a country where adult obesity rates soared to 23% and where morbid obesity rates are rising rapidly. (see background note).
A new online medical training programme devised as part of the Specialist Certificate in Obesity Professional Education, run by the International Association for the Study of Obesity in conjunction with its regional body, the European Association for the Study of Obesity will be unveiled at the Congress on Tuesday. (see associated release on SCOPE).
The survey also highlighted the increased use of surgery in the treatment of morbid or severe obesity. New European guidelines for surgery of severe obesity have been published by a joint working group, the Bariatric Scientific Collaborative Group (BSCG), involving : the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity (IFSO) and its European regional group, and the European Association for Study of Obesity (EASO), and the European Childhood Obesity Group (ECOG).
The need for new guidelines reflects the hidden rise in higher levels obesity where keyhole surgery measures are providing simpler and more cost effective ways to make use of gastric bands and other surgical treatments.
From the survey France emerges as having the greatest provision for bariatric surgery centres despite also having a lower prevalence of obesity than in many other parts of Europe. In the UK fewer than 1000 surgical procedures were carried out annually – under half the number undertaken in Germany.
With record numbers of scientists attending the the 15th European Congress of Obesity, for the first time the scientific programme includes almost 100 abstracts dealing with bariatric surgery techniques, outcomes and metabolic benefits.