Major study into obesity

Major study into obesity

Researchers in Aberdeen are launching a £495,656 study to find effective and efficient ways of helping to prevent adults from becoming obese and then suffering the ill-health caused by the condition.

They hope that by identifying the best methods of preventing people from becoming overweight or obese, they can reduce the risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, which are caused by obesity, and which put a huge strain on NHS resources.

Obesity is a major cause of ill-health in the UK and the number of people who are overweight and obese has trebled over the last 25 years. By 2004 there were roughly 24 million men and women who were either overweight or obese in UK. It was estimated by the House of Commons Health Select Committee that the cost of obesity and of people being overweight to society is between £6.6 and £7.4 billion per year. This figure includes over £2.5 billion for the costs associated with premature death and absence from work.

University of Aberdeen specialists in economics, public health, clinical nutrition, systematic review, epidemiology and sociology are joining forces with former University of Aberdeen researchers, now at the University of Melbourne, on the economic evaluation of lifestyle interventions, such as dieting and exercise, which aim to prevent obesity in adults.

The research is funded by the National Preventive Research Initiative - a major consortium of funders, including the British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, World cancer Research Fund, The Department of Health, the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Executive Health Department, The Welsh Assembly, The NHS Research and Development Office, The Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council. The initiative is co-ordinated by the Medical Research Council.

Luke Vale, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen’s Health Economics Research Unit, said: “Obesity is known to contribute to the risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer and the incidence of obesity continues to rise.

“Despite this grim situation there is little evidence about how well methods to prevent obesity are actually performing.

“What we aim to do is provide information for policymakers - and the public – about which lifestyle interventions are worthwhile, and which will make the best use of scarce NHS resources as a way of preventing obesity and health problems that are caused by it.”

The research team will spend three years taking a multi-phased approach to the study, initially beginning with a review of existing data about methods for preventing obesity.

As part of this study they hope to speak to people who may be obese or at risk of becoming overweight about their perceptions of obesity and its prevention. This area of research will also aim to establish other factors, such as self image e.g. do people want to lose weight because they want to look thinner as opposed to becoming healthier.

Researchers will also gather information on good and bad lifestyle interventions by speaking to GPs, regional health boards, NHS Health Scotland, NHS Health Quality Improvement Scotland, NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) and the Department of Health.

They will also analyse the large amounts of data that have been collected over many years within the UK to estimate how changes in lifestyle might lead to changes in the risk of obesity and on the incidence of diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer and their related costs.

Dr Vale added: “Most people know that obesity carries enormous health risks. For example, a 5ft 6in woman who weighs 11st is five times more likely to develop diabetes than a woman who is 1.5st lighter!

“It also well known that it is relatively easy for us all to gain weight but much harder to lose it. Prevention makes a lot of sense in this case and it is at the heart of this research. Many people will first try to help themselves but some may need help. Our aim is to identify the best ways to help prevent people from becoming overweight or obese in a way which makes the best use of the resources available to the NHS. We will use this evidence to inform policy makers and the public about what services the NHS could and should provide.”

Facts about obesity and its effects

· Small changes in lifestyle can lead to the gain in weight e.g. just an extra 60 calories every day for year can result in nearly a 5lb weight gain over a year (a single biscuit contains between 50 and 120 calories).

· a 5ft 5/6in woman who is 11st is five time more likely to develop diabetes than a woman who is 1 ½ st lighter.

· an obese man is 1 ½ time more likely to suffer a heart attack and an obese women is over 3 times more likely.

· 46% of men and 35% of women are overweight, a further 24% of men and women are obese

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