Obesity guidance targets co-ordinated solutions

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Public health Obesity

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
has issued the first-ever national guideline addressing both the
prevention and treatment of obesity in adults and children.

The guideline, which concerns England and Wales, contains wide-ranging recommendations, and emphasises that diet changes and exercise should be the first line of treatment for adults who are overweight or obese.

The publication of the document underlines the growing acceptance that while the causes of obesity are multi-faceted, food consumption still plays a central role in both prevention and treatment.

It argues for example that schools should ensure that the ethos of all policies help children and young people to maintain a healthy weight, eat a healthy diet and be physically active.

This includes policies relating to building layout and recreational spaces, catering (including vending machines) and the food and drink children bring into school, the taught curriculum (including PE), school travel plans and provision for cycling.

Furthermore, it says that healthcare professionals should give people advice on maintaining a healthy weight that includes eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and avoiding foods that are high in fat and sugar.

"Obesity is the most serious threat to the future health of our nation,"​ said professor Peter Littlejohns, clinical and public health director at NICE and executive lead for this guidance.

"Its risks are as serious as smoking and urgent action is needed to tackle this problem now. For the first time we have brought together all the people that can help solve the obesity problem not just health professionals, but also local councils, employers and schools to produce a piece of work that sets out the steps we must take as a nation in order to tackle the obesity epidemic."

The guidance is refreshing as it implicitly accepts that the responsibility for solving the obesity problem cannot be laid at the door of the food industry alone. Nonetheless, the industry has been under intense pressure to act. The CIAA, the European food and drink association, believes it has responded positively through product reformulation, education, labelling, research and responsible advertising and marketing.

"Tackling the obesity epidemic isnt just about treating people who are already obese, its also about helping people to avoid becoming overweight in the first place,"​ said Dr Ken Snider, director of County Durham and Tees Valley Public Health Network.

"We recommend an integrated approach to the obesity problem action must be taken now to stop the epidemic and to ensure better health and wellbeing for us all and for our children."

But Dr Alan Maryon Davis, director of public health at Southwark and chair of the faculty's cardiovascular expert group said that unless public health funds to tackle the epidemic are protected, the NICE guidance would be little more than aspirational. Furthermore, there is little chance that the food industry will cease to be the centre of attention, despite the fact that there is a growing move towards treating obesity multilaterally.

"The UK is second only to the USA in terms of the numbers of people that are overweight or obese,"​ said consumer representative Suzanne Lucas.

"The guideline is to be welcomed as it contains a range of recommendations aimed directly at individuals to help them change their behaviour if they want to improve their long term health. I would encourage everyone to read the lay version of these guidelines and take action now, before it is too late."

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) is the independent organisation responsible for providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health.

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