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The AMA - Australian Medical Association - have updated their position statement on obesity to reflect the severity of the national obesity crisis.
Sweeping in scope and strongly worded, the updated statement argues that the crisis is so severe that it necessitates a whole-of-society approach to prevent, reduce and treat obesity.
While obesity has been recognised as a National Health Priority Area since 2008, the AMA point to a growing corpus of evidence that obesity is overtaking smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in Australia.
As well as the societal risks, the AMA is unambiguous on the personal risks of obesity:
Obesity is a major risk factor for chronic and preventable conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, musculoskeletal disorders and impaired psychosocial functioning. About 70 percent of people who are obese have at least one established morbidity, resulting in medical costs that are about 30 percent greater than those of their healthy weight peers. Many more have serious health conditions that they are unaware of, for example, it has been estimated that for every five cases of diabetes there are four undiagnosed cases.
Throughout the position paper, the AMA makes a case that the approach should be driven by government at all levels, arguing that, “Governments are unique in their capacity to influence and regulate people’s behavior of a large scale.”
According to the position paper, governments should use the full range of their powers to address the crisis; including taxation and subsidies to respectively raise the prices of “energy dense and nutrient poor food products” and make healthy options, like fresh fruit, more affordable.
Also recommended by the AMA for this whole-of-society approach are things like creating rules around the production, sale and marketing of unhealthy foods, planning towns and communities to encourage exercise, and initiating school and community based programs that provide education and incentives on healthy eating and activity practices.
While most of the guidelines are focused on long-term strategies for the prevention and early intervention of obesity – particularly among children and Australia’s most vulnerable communities – they also contain some limited, though very telling information relating to the management and treatment of obesity for those who are already suffering from it.
The AMA’s position paper sets out six key findings relating to the individual treatment and management of obesity:
The AMA’s support for bariatric surgery – which includes procedures like gastric bypass, laparoscopic bands and sleeves – adds further credence to a rapidly growing body of research that indicates bariatric procedures often result in the best long-term weight loss and health outcomes for people with obesity.