ASO calls for specific action on prevention and treatment of obesity

The UK Association for the Study of Obesity (ASO) remains concerned that insufficient action is being taken to tackle obesity. Two thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese and this is associated with a substantial burden of ill-health which is set to continue for years to come. Specific action is needed both on prevention and on treatment.

In National Obesity Awareness Week (13-19 January 2014) the ASO calls on the UK government to take action to treat those people currently affected by obesity and to transform the food environment to make it easier for everyone to make healthier choices.

Specifically the association recommends that policymakers:

1. Invest in the management of obesity by expanding the provision of specialist bariatric services and incentivising GPs to take greater action to address obesity through the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF). Current provision of bariatric surgery is patchy, while the GP pay for performance scheme only rewards GPs for keeping a register of obese patients and not for supporting them to lose weight.

2. Take action to control the marketing of energy dense foods and sugary drinks, particularly to children. It is recognised that most people are continuing to eat more than they need and this is, in part, prompted by the ready availability and powerful marketing of these foods, which encourage overconsumption. Current regulations fail to adequately address this issue, with the scope being limited both in terms of media and programming covered. Under the current Ofcom legislation high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) foods are still being aggressively marketed in and around television programmes with the greatest number of child viewers.

Quotes from ASO Trustees

Professor John Wilding, University of Liverpool and a specialist in treating people with severe obesity said:
‘Severe obesity, often associated with serious complications such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and sleep apnoea, now affects over a million people in the UK. Patients can be effectively supported by specialist services that can help them make lifestyle changes, and provide bariatric surgery if appropriate for those who are most likely to benefit. It is essential that the current variations in the availability of services for these people with the most severe and complex obesity are minimised, so that the best and most effective treatments are available for all.’

Professor Paul Aveyard, Department of Primary Care, University of Oxford and a GP said:
‘GPs could do much more to tackle obesity. The QOF, our pay for performance scheme, pays us to record our patients’ weight and create an obesity register and also to weigh our patients with diabetes every year. We now know there are simple and cheap treatments that would help our patients to lose weight and their health would improve. GPs worry that talking about weight will upset our patients but our fears are largely groundless. If the Government changed the QOF I am sure it would give permission for GPs to talk to their patients about their weight and ensure they get the treatments that would improve their health.’

Professor Jason Halford, University of Liverpool, Chair of the ASO said:
‘Food promotion has proven effects on food choice beyond brands, encouraging children to over consume and swap to unhealthier options. Given that high fat, sugar and/or salt (HFSS) foods are constantly and heavily promoted it is unsurprising that children demand these foods and consider them a normal (and perhaps even essential) part of a daily diet. Such foods are energy dense, highly rewarding, tend to have weaker impact on appetite, and therefore readily encourage overconsumption. Current regulation has proved insufficient to alter an environment that challenges child health. Critically, although we focus on the food producers, little action targets retailers, point of sale promotion or the heavy discounting of unhealthy options.’

Dr Emma Boyland, University of Liverpool, who has conducted research into the effects of food marketing to children said:
‘Establishing a 9pm watershed for HFSS food advertising on television ensures young people are not bombarded with promotion of foods that contribute to overconsumption. Action also needs to be taken to reduce internet food marketing. Companies are not living up to their own commitments. Industry self-regulation is ineffective and insufficient to tackle this growing issue where children are enticed into playing addictive ‘advergames’, which are packed full of brand and product promotions for HFSS items and have been shown to have a negative effect on food choice and consumption’.

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