More reasons to focus on weight issues

IN the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 50.1% of our adult population were found to be overweight or obese (30.4% overweight and 19.7% obese). This means that out of two adults, one is overweight or obese.

Many have the wrong perception that being overweight or obese is fine as long as they don’t fall sick. But there is strong evidence showing that overweight or obese people are at greater risks for contracting diseases such Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stroke and certain types of cancers.

Furthermore, people who are overweight/obese may have poorer outcomes if they are infected with Covid-19.

The current evidence does not suggest that having excess weight increases people’s chances of contracting Covid-19.

However, obese people with Covid-19 are more likely to become seriously ill, need advanced respiratory support or die, compared to those with normal weight.

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the health crisis caused by overweight and obesity to the forefront.

Helping people living with overweight or obesity to achieve or maintain a healthier weight is complex. At its simplest level, obesity is caused by an imbalance between energy intake from diets and energy expenditure through physical activities.

Other drivers of obesity include environmental, behavioural, biological, societal and cultural factors.

Existing policies on non-communicable diseases, tackling obesity and promoting active living should be translated to more aggressive activities to increase public awareness and provide support for those who are interested in losing weight, in addition to implementing new laws such as imposing tax to discourage the purchase of unhealthy foods.

Existing health programmes in schools should also be more aggressive in tackling childhood obesity. There should be more stringent rules on the advertising of food with high fat, sugar and salt in the mass media as well.

Empowering everyone with the right information to make healthier food choices is an important step in weight management.

Learn the lessons from smoking prevention, where general practitioners (GPs) played a key role in increasing patients’ awareness of the adverse effects of smoking and recommending behavioural interventions, including referrals to stop-smoking services. We need to incorporate these types of interventions for obesity in primary care.

If and when GPs can spend a few minutes on patients who are obese to help them reduce weight, this will at least make them realise that obesity is bad for their health. In order for this to be successful, weight management services should be provided in the community healthcare system.

Supporting people who are living with excess weight to gain a healthier body mass in a sustainable manner, together with interventions to prevent weight gain across the population, would reduce the population’s health risks in the future.

This article was written by Prof Dr Moy Foong Ming and was first published in the Star Newspaper on the 21 August 2020.

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