Sarah Le Brocq, Director, HOOP UK, comments on UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity Report
On 15th May 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Obesity report ‘The current landscape of obesity services’ was launched at Portcullis House, London. As my role of a patient and my position as the Director of Helping Overcome Obesity Problems (HOOP) UK, I was honoured to be a part of the discussion panel representing the patient voice.
The outcomes of the report did not really surprise me, having spent a long time living as a person with obesity and listening to HOOP UK members describe their experiences and challenges that they experience on a daily basis.
These are the three key messages from the report that resonated with me as a patient (see Figure 1 for key inquiry findings):
- 88% of people with obesity reported having been stigmatised, criticised or abused as a result of their obesity
- 94% of people believe that there is not enough understanding about the causes of obesity amongst the public.
- 42% of people with obesity did not feel comfortable talking to their GP about their obesity.
Weight stigma is widespread, and I believe that we all need to work diligently on addressing the issue. One option that is currently being discussed, is to classify obesity as a chronic disease and I therefore fully encourage the UK government to take the necessary steps towards this classification.
Empirical evidence informs us that obesity is complex and as such should be treated as a chronic disease. However, it is also imperative that blame is removed from the conversation, particularly given that we know stigma and discrimination can reduce the effectiveness of prevention and treatment efforts. To do this, we need a culture shift, which means engaging stakeholders from across our society. The media are key to disseminating non-stigmatising information and use of non-stigmatising imagery, improving the accuracy of messages, and dispelling myths and stereotypes that are reported by people of all ages and backgrounds.
Healthcare professionals also have a key role in challenging stigma and discrimination given that they are primary points of contact for people with obesity and existing research tells us that healthcare professionals are not immune from weight stigma attitudes and behaviours. Thus, there is a need to improve current practice, which can be achieved through improved education and training
However, what was missing from the report was an emphasis on the psychological challenges that people with obesity experience. From first-hand experience, and from what HOOP UK members have told us, the psychological battle is the hardest, yet there is insufficient support from healthcare. We need to understand the complexity of obesity, which, as the Foresight Report (2007) informs us, is a combination of biological, psychological, social, economic factors. In improving this understanding, as well as the reasons why people are experiencing obesity, I believe this will benefit patient experiences and contribute to greater public understanding. Until we address psychological challenges of obesity, I am not convinced that we will ever tackle it.
There is a need to develop and implement prevention efforts. However, we cannot overlook the millions of people already suffering with obesity. The numbers now stand at 1/3 of children and 2/3 of adults. What are we going to do to support them? In my opinion, we need a major overhaul of weight management services currently available and we need to remove the “postcode lottery” scenario we have going on and provide equity of care. The important conversations in the media, which the likes of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver are contributing to, are focused on prevention and it is imperative that treatment is also discussed.
The direct feedback from the launch was that there was increased engagement from MP’s across all parties and momentum is definitely building. I feel like we are on the cusp of something and I hope the Government will finally sit up and listen to what we are saying and act upon some of these recommendations.
Figure 1: Key Inquiry findings from the APPG on Obesity Report: The current landscape of obesity services
Read the full report here: https://www.obesityappg.com/inquiries/