Feature

Obesity Australia Summit 2018: A new approach to a growing problem


Amanda Lyons


8/08/2018 4:03:48 PM

Dr Georgia Rigas talked to newsGP about this year’s Obesity Australia Summit, and why we need to change our approach to overweight and obesity.

Dr Georgia Rigas, second from left, stands next to Professor Stephen Simpson, third from left, at the Obesity Australia Summit 2018. (Image: Rachel Fergus Sydney)
Dr Georgia Rigas, second from left, stands next to Professor Stephen Simpson, third from left, at the Obesity Australia Summit 2018. (Image: Rachel Fergus Sydney)

The statistics on obesity in Australia are sobering.
 
‘Two thirds of the adult population and a quarter of Australian children are classified as overweight or obese, placing us near the top of the global ranking,’ Professor Stephen Simpson, Director of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Executive Director of Obesity Australia, said at the Obesity Australia Summit (the Summit) last week.
 
The Summit, which was held at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre, saw the launch of The Obesity Collective, a group of individuals and organisations committed to tackling the problem of obesity in Australia with its Collective Plan for Action.
 
And that problem is considerable, as overweight and obesity have been found to be a leading risk factor for ill health and death, including 11 different types of cancer – and childhood obesity may have even worse implications for future health.
 
Dr Georgia Rigas, Chair of the RACGP Obesity Management Specific Interests network and RACGP representative at the Summit, has been motivated to join the fight against overweight and obesity by her concerns for the future.
 
‘At current rates, obesity will affect our children more than it does the current generation of adults,’ she said.
 
‘Any other life-threatening health issue of this magnitude would be treated as a top priority and would mobilise cohesive action.’
 
According to Dr Rigas, Australia’s current approach to its obesity epidemic is clearly not sufficient.
 
‘There’s a great saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”,’ she said.
 
‘With such alarming statistics we can comfortably say that what we have been doing as individuals, communities, healthcare professionals, organisations and government bodies, is clearly not enough.
 
‘So obesity prevention and treatment – it needs fixing.’
 
Dr Rigas believes social stigmatisation of the condition is one of the main factors that prevents a more cohesive response.
 
‘People with obesity are often reluctant to come forward because of stigma and shame,’ she said.
 
‘Discrimination and bias are rampant in the general community, including amongst healthcare professionals … who have generally lacked comprehensive knowledge in the prevention of and prescriptions available for obesity.’
 
But she does see positive developments in future medical training.
 
‘This [situation] is slowly changing with obesity management being incorporated into the syllabus by a number of educational institutions, both undergraduate and post-graduate,’ she said.
 
‘Obviously there is a need for continual upskilling of healthcare professionals as the obesity prevention and treatment landscape continues to change.’
 
However, Dr Rigas, and The Obesity Collective as a whole, would like to see further change in the perception of obesity, from a narrative of personal to collective responsibility.
 
‘Obesity is a chronic, progressive health condition, not a lack of will power,’ she said.                      
 
‘Where we are today with obesity is where we were 30 years ago with depression, when the condition was considered to be the person’s responsibility and was often not spoken about. But with a better understanding of the science behind moderate-severe depression, we know that a person cannot will herself or himself better.                                                                    
 
‘Similarly, telling someone with severe obesity to “eat less and exercise more” as the only strategy is like telling someone with severe depression “cheer up” – we know it simply won’t be enough, they need more help and support.’
 
Professor Simpson also underscored that message at the Summit itself.
 
‘Overweight and obesity are a normal response to the modern environment: they are easy to acquire, but our biology makes it hard to escape without help,’ he said.
 
‘The clear message from across sectors is that the time has come to transform our response to the obesity epidemic – both its prevention and treatment.
 
‘We intend for the Collective to become a whole-of-society movement for change. We must transform the way society thinks, speaks and acts on obesity to reduce the impact it has on us all.’ 
 
Dr Rigas hopes the combined power and action represented by The Obesity Collective can help to effect real progress on the issue.
 
‘For too many years, committed individuals and organisations have been working in silos,’ she said.
 
‘The Obesity Collective provides the vehicle for a more unified voice and connected efforts across both treatment and prevention, so that we can create the momentum we need to drive change.’
 
While at the Summit, Dr Rigas also read out a pledge on behalf of the RACGP:
 
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and its 38,000 members are passionate about providing the support needed for our patients with obesity and their carers, with the goal to improve their health, function, and quality of life. 
 
To support GPs in their communities, the RACGP will develop a policy statement on the ‘prevention of obesity’, which will assist GPs as the front-line health professionals in the fight against Australia’s increase in preventive diseases. 
 
Furthermore, the RACGP will continue to educate all of our GPs on effective, evidence-based treatment options and encourage the implementation of best practice, when working with patients with obesity and their carers.



obesity Overweight The Obesity Collective





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