People with obesity in UK wait longer before seeking help, study suggests

People with obesity in the UK wait much longer than the global average before discussing weight with a healthcare professional, a study has found.

An analysis of UK data from a global obesity study has shown that, on average, people with obesity in the UK were struggling with their weight for nine years before they sought help from a healthcare professional – much longer than the global average of six years.

This delay puts people with obesity at additional risk of developing obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, obstructive sleep apnoea and cancer.

The study by UK obesity experts, presented at the European and International Congress on Obesity, found that more than half of the people with obesity had never discussed their weight with a healthcare professional.

Reasons identified for the findings were that people with obesity felt that it was their sole responsibility to manage their excess weight, and UK doctors incorrectly perceived their patients to be not motivated to lose weight.

The study, led by Dr Carly Hughes of Fakenham Weight Management Service in Norfolk and Professor Jason Halford of the University of Leeds, also found that short appointment times were a barrier to weight loss conversations in the UK.

An online survey was conducted in 11 countries – Australia, Chile, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Spain, UAE and the UK.

This particular study looks at the UK results, where 1,500 people with obesity (PwO) and 306 healthcare professionals (HCPs) completed the survey.

PwO (81%) believed that obesity has a large impact on health, similar to diabetes (82%), cancer (82%), and stroke (88%).

However, only 68% of UK HCPs (compared with an average of 76% of HCPs from all 11 countries) recognised the impact of obesity on health, and it was rated less serious than diabetes, cancer and stroke by 40%, 65% and 62% of HCPs respectively.

Among the 47% of PwO (compared with 54% across all 11 countries) who had a discussion with an HCP about weight in the past five years, it took a mean of nine years (versus an average of six years across all 11 countries) from the start of struggles with weight until a discussion took place.

PwO who had a weight discussion with a HCP reported positive (56%) and negative (45%) feelings, while 4% felt offended.

The authors said: “UK healthcare providers underrate the impact of obesity on health, with few believing their patients are motivated to lose weight.

“In the UK, the time from the start of struggles with weight until the initial discussion with their doctor – which is the gateway to treatment in the UK NHS – was longer than the global average, and we believe addressing this time gap is key.

“Such a delay puts people with obesity at increased risk of developing obesity-related conditions.

“The narrative around obesity must be changed in the UK for the whole population, including people with obesity, with less focus on individual responsibility which encourages self-blame and stigma.

“Obesity education should address the barriers to weight loss discussions which may include doctors’ perceptions and misconceptions regarding the motivations of people with obesity, knowledge of treatments and time barriers in consultations.”

Meanwhile, another study also presented at the European and International Congress on Obesity, found that weight loss is linked to significantly lower risk of developing cardiovascular risk factors including type-2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood fats.

People with obesity who intentionally lost an average of 13% of their initial body weight reduced their relative risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 42%-44%, sleep apnoea by 22%-27%, high blood pressure by 18%-25%, and dyslipidaemia (unusually high levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood) by 20-22%, according to the study of more than 550,000 adults in primary care in the UK.

This is the first of its kind to quantify the benefits of intentional weight loss on the risk of obesity-related conditions in real-world clinical practice.

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