Health reform should include efforts to fight obesity, group says

Patients counseled on weight loss by physicians are three times more likely to attempt dieting.

By Susan J. Landers — Posted Sept. 24, 2009

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A coalition of physician organizations and other groups recommends doctor-patient conversations about weight loss and improved clinical approaches as ways to reverse the nation's obesity epidemic.

These and other suggestions were issued Sept. 9 by the Strategies to Overcome and Prevent Obesity Alliance. The coalition said the recommendations should be included in health system reform legislation being debated on Capitol Hill.

Among the organizations on the alliance steering committee are the American Diabetes Assn.; the American Heart Assn.; the American Medical Group Assn.; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, Overweight and Obesity; and the National Business Group on Health.

"Our hope is by putting these recommendations forward, members of Congress and private sector businesses can understand that they are raised by a bipartisan group of people who represent every sector of the American economy," said Christine Ferguson, director of the alliance and a research professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services in Washington, D.C. She spoke at the Sept. 9 briefing by the group (link).

Obesity significantly increases the risk for more than 20 chronic diseases, said former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, who spoke at the briefing and is the alliance's Health and Wellness Chair. Former Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, also spoke at the gathering.

"Today we are in a state of emergency when it comes to obesity," Dr. Satcher said. Data show that from 1980 to 2000, the occurrence of overweight and obesity among children tripled, while it doubled among adults, he said. "The issues underpinning obesity are too complex and widespread for any one institution to effectively address it alone."

The alliance is advising physicians to talk to their patients about weight. Obese people who receive counseling on weight loss from a physician are nearly three times as likely to diet as patients who do not receive counseling, the group said.

The alliance also recommended following National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute guidelines that favor slow, progressive weight loss rather than the rapid shedding of pounds.

Research has shown that a modest loss of 5% to 10% of body weight after six months carries numerous health benefits, including reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes and improving cardiovascular risk factors. Lifestyle interventions such as diet and physical exercise are particularly effective, the alliance said.

"We've reached the tipping point on obesity in the United States," Dr. Carmona said. "Children as young as 10 are now being diagnosed with chronic conditions. We could be raising the first generation of children who don't live as long as their parents."

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