So we have an obesity problem – a health epidemic on our doorstep.
Worse again, we are in to a large part in denial over how bad it is. In fact a very recent University of Limerick study has found that mothers of overweight and obese children struggle to recognize their child as overweight or obese. The study reported on 7,655 mothers and their nine year old children using data from the national longitudinal study of children, Growing Up in Ireland. Study co-author, Professor Ailish Hannigan, highlighted that “while three quarters of overweight mothers and 60% of obese mothers in the study recognised themselves as overweight or obese, mothers of overweight or obese children were much less likely to recognise this in their child.” Just 1 in 6 mothers of obese children classified their child as moderately or very overweight – this in a climate where 60% of people in Ireland are overweight.
In fact over 1 in four have a significant health condition with many of these being as a direct result of being overweight. Diseases such as Coronary heart disease, cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon), dyslipidemia (high cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides), stroke, liver and gallbladder disease, sleep apnoea and respiratory problems, osteoarthritis (a degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint), gynaecological problems (abnormal menses, infertility), hypertension & anxiety (high blood pressure) and what we know as the silent killer, type 2 diabetes are all known to have strong links to those who are overweight.
So what could we do?
Exercise prescription is going to have to be part of the solution to redress the balance. Why is it that a doctor will test a child for every known illness on the planet yet, we are slow to diagnose a child as being overweight or obese?
Do general practitioner doctors have the tools or the competence in this area or field? Some do but some will not feel comfortable in this space where the manner in which one is told can have implications for a child’s confidence and self esteem. Nor will they generally have the competence or expertise to administer exercise dosage through an exercise programme.
However, there is possible solution. There are now a number of exercise psychologists in this country who have both the professional counselling and motivation skills and background in exercise prescription to play a role in the solution. If a patient has an issue with a muscle, they are generally referred to a physiotherapist, ditto a psychologist or mental health professional if suffering from anxiety or depression. When every child is checked for MMR and Tetanus, could they be checked for obesity by their GP identifying the issue and prescribing interventions before the issue gets out of hand and presents as some of the chronic diseases listed above.
Could such a role for an exercise psychologist be introduced through GP referral for children and adults of specific risk factors such as high BMI or percentage fat test – possibly BMI exceeding 35 or percentage fat exceeding 25%. Could this be referred by doctor / physiotherapist through NHS or health system.
If the government saw it as such a real issue, wouldn’t they be looking to meaningful ways to combat huge escalation in obesity statistics that is set to strangle our present and future population. Companies could be allowed tax breaks to hold such motivational talks/ workshops for their workers by appropriately qualified individuals. Couldn’t this be easily incentivised through government policy given that a healthier workforce makes a more profitable company?
Would such professionals have a place possibly being connected to a number of schools and play a role within a motivational context for getting young students to address their diet and levels of exercise or lack thereof.
An OECD study in 2010 revealed that it costs the Irish exchequer 1.6 billion annually in dealing with the obesity epidemic. In the USA a National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) survey in 2010 stated that the average cost of medical expense for obese individuals in 2008 was $1,429 higher than those of normal weight or 147 billion to the US exchequer annually.
Such a progressive move would cover a lot of bases in filling the gap in available services, with a net saving of money to the exchequer in comparison with the status quo. Obviously if this were happening the exercise psychologist would be more visible to the public and people would go of their own volition privately further reducing the cost to the exchequer.
Some food for thought……