Reluctance of patients to seek advice about excess weight and hesitation among healthcare professionals to offer it leads to a huge time lag between onset and treatment of obesity.
Research in the UK among people living with obesity found it had taken them nine years, on average, between starting to struggle with their weight and having a conversation about it with a healthcare professional.
There is no reason to think it is any different on this side of the Irish Sea.
“That is a long time and that is a conversation that is often prompted by some other health complication,” says dietitian Karen Gaynor, a committee member of the Association for the Study of Obesity on the island of Ireland (ASOI). “So people aren’t having that conversation early enough in order to prevent the complications of obesity.”
Primary prevention to avoid the development of excess weight involves the lifestyle measures we should take to reduce the risk of any chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, as well as obesity. These include healthy eating, sufficient physical activity, good sleep routine and management of stress. In the context of obesity, we should be talking more about earlier secondary and tertiary interventions, she says.
This week, from May 17th to 20th, some of the most up-to-date research and thinking about this chronic disease will be shared among 1,800 participants at the 30th European Congress on Obesity (eco2023.org) in Dublin’s Convention Centre. Ireland is hosting the event at a time when the Government and the HSE have made addressing obesity a priority, says Gaynor, who is programme manager with the HSE Obesity National Clinical Programme. Yet, historically, there have been very limited specialist services here and that situation won’t change overnight.