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Guest Post: Australian GPs Recognise Obesity As A Disease



The following is a guest post from my Australian colleague Dr. Georgia Rigas, who reports on the recent recognition of obesity as a disease by the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP).

Last week, the Royal Australian College of General Practice (RACGP) President, Dr Seidel recognised obesity as a disease. The RACGP is the first medical college in Australia to do so.

This was exciting news given that we have just observed World Obesity Day a few days ago.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics1, over 60% of Australian adults are classified as having overweight or obesity, and more than 25% of these have obesity [defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) ≥30] (ABS2012). Similarly in 2007, around 25% of children aged 2–16 were identified as having overweight or obesity, with 6% classified as having obesity (DoHA 2008). These are alarming statistics.

The recent published BEACH data for 2015-162, showed that the proportion of Australian adults aged 45-64yo presenting to GPs has almost doubled in the last 15+ years. Worryingly the numbers are predicted to continue rising, with 70% of Australians predicted to have overweight or obesity by 2025. Embarrassingly, the BEACH data also indicated that <1% of GP consultations centred around obesity management.

So obviously what we, as GPs have been doing..,or rather not doing…isn’t working!

The RACGP’s General Practice: Health of the Nation 2017 3report found Australian GPs identified obesity and complications from obesity as one of the most significant health problems Australia faces today and will continue to face in coming years as the incidence of obesity continues to rise.

But what are we doing about it?…. I think the answer is evident… clearly not enough!

Thus, we can only hope that this announcement by the RACGP will have a ripple effect, with other medical colleges in Australia and then the Australian Medical Association following suit.

So what does this mean in practical terms?

For those individuals with obesity (BMI ≥30) with no “apparent” comorbidities or complications from their excess weight…[though you could argue they will develop (if not already) premature osteoarthritis of the weight bearing joints…..] would be eligible for a chronic care plan [government subsidized access to a limited number of consultations with allied health services] given the chronic and progressive nature of the disease.

It also highlights the need for GPs to start screening ALL patients in their practice-young and old;

    • for children their parameters need to be plotted on a BMI-for-age chart;
    • for adults BMI & waist circumference, taking into account their ethnicity (as different cut- offs for different ethnic groups) and physical activity levels (if they are muscular or not) are important

This powerful statement should help clear any ambivalence.

Why is there a therapeutic inertia when it comes to treating people with obesity?

People with obesity suffer significant degrees of stigma, discrimination and weight bias and as a result may be reluctant to access healthcare. Today, we are giving these patients a voice.

As health care professionals, let’s not forget that the health message needs to change from “lose weight” to “gain health” in recognition that obesity is about more than body weight.

In closing, to effectively and equitably work towards reducing obesity in our communities, we need a balanced combination of both individual and public health measures. This media release by the RACGP shows their commitment to both the primary prevention and the treatment of this life- threatening disease, to ensure better health outcomes and quality of life for all Australians.

Dr Georgia Rigas, MBBS FRACGP
SCOPE certified obesity doctor
Bariatric Medical Practitioner
Sydney, Australia

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