Health concerns: Treating obesity will alleviate stigma, burden on economy
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Health concerns: Treating obesity will alleviate stigma, burden on economy

Health concerns: Treating obesity will alleviate stigma, burden on economy

More than 650 million people are currently living with obesity globally


Obesity has today reached epidemic proportions and we, as a society, cannot delay addressing it any longer. More than 650 million people are currently living with obesity globally, with the prevalence of obesity having nearly tripled since 1975. Placing considerable economic pressures, the total cost of high body mass index to health services globally is $990bn per year, equating to over 13 per cent of all healthcare expenditure.

As much as 34.5 per cent of the UAE population is classified as obese and 70.6 per cent as overweight by the World Health Organization. Obesity continues to have a profound impact on individuals, families and healthcare systems and is also ranked second to depression in terms of its cost to employers. As a chronic disease, it needs life-long management.

To ensure that we are able to stem this tide, we are working tirelessly to not only improve the lives of people with obesity but also in shifting perceptions to change how the world sees, prevents and treats obesity. There needs to be a shift in mindset to see obesity as a manageable condition and one recognised as a disease by multiple medical organisations, but resources are still needed to help educate patients, their families and the medical community.

Associated conditions such as cardiovascular diseases are also placing immense pressures on society and the economy at large. For many patients, obesity is not a result of lifestyle choices. Obesity is linked to more than 50 other serious diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes and cancer and disease is influenced by genetics, psychological and environmental factors, hormones, and physical inactivity.

Also, 40 per cent of all diagnosed cancers are associated with obesity. Due to such a level of complexity, the treatment of obesity will require a comprehensive and personalised approach which includes lifestyle interventions and medical management that also targets individual risk factors.

Shining a light on the gaps, an International Observation (ACTION IO) study commissioned by Novo Nordisk has highlighted the need for greater communication and empathy to help change how healthcare professionals (HCPs) manage, treat and support patients, while investigating barriers to obesity management in 11 countries worldwide, including the UAE.

The study identified that 68 per cent of patients with obesity prefer the HCP to initiate weight conversations and that the mean number of years between when struggle with weight began and first discussed with HCP was six years. This is a considerable gap in terms of action that the healthcare sector must address by normalising patients seeking treatment for obesity just as any other disease.

Addressing the significant unmet needs in obesity and changing perceptions of it, we are as driven by science as we are about working with our partners to foster empathy and respect for people with obesity and widespread recognition of obesity as a chronic disease. With a heritage of driving change and diverse pipeline and over 20 years of research into obesity, we are working to develop the next generation of innovative obesity treatments with new classes of medicines in clinical development, including combination therapies.

Going beyond medicine, we also recognise that to improve care for people living with obesity, change needs to happen across society – from prevention and defeating stigma to enacting the right policies and establishing common guidelines that can be used by all industry stakeholders. It is also about addressing immediate priorities, for example, we seek to support improved care for people living with obesity by facilitating sharing of insights on the impact of Covid-19.

Our long-term commitment continues to be to change and improve the lives of people with obesity including advancing medical management, prevention, education, advocacy and patient support, and increasing access to care.

Mads Larsen is the vice president and general manager of Novo Nordisk in the UAE

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