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Promote exercise not surgery to cut obesity and diabetes, say MPs

Select Committee asks why bariatric surgery is prioritised over other evidence-based interventions

Louise Prime

Thursday, 26 March 2015

We should be encouraging people to take more exercise and improve their diet rather than spending as much as we do on bariatric surgery to tackle obesity and cut diabetes risk, MPs have recommended. The Health Select Committee also called in its latest report for more emphasis on the benefits to health of physical activity in itself, rather than viewing it simply as a means of controlling weight. The Committee said it was ‘inexplicable and unacceptable’ for the NHS to now be spending more money on bariatric surgery than is spent on intensive lifestyle intervention programmes that were long ago proven to cut rates of diabetes and obesity.

The Inquiry into the impact of physical activity and diet on health heard that although diet, obesity and physical activity all have important impacts on health, there has been ‘for too long’ a view that the only benefit of physical activity is in terms of tackling obesity. The report concluded: “A core message from this inquiry is the compelling evidence that physical activity in its own right has huge health benefits totally independent of a person’s weight. The importance of this – regardless of weight, age, gender or other factors – needs to be clearly communicated.”

MPs insisted that interventions focused on encouraging individuals to change their behaviour with regard to diet and physical activity must be underpinned by broader, population-level measures because, although both are important, the advantage of population-level interventions is that they have an impact on far greater numbers than could ever benefit from individual interventions. They called on the next Government to prioritise prevention, health promotion and early intervention to tackle the health inequalities and avoidable harm that currently result from poor diet and physical inactivity. This, they said, would require action to be taken at all levels, and “must also be core business for the NHS and local authorities”.

The Committee said it is “inexplicable and unacceptable that the NHS is now spending more on bariatric surgery for obesity than on a national roll-out of intensive lifestyle intervention programmes that were first shown to cut obesity and prevent diabetes over a decade ago”. It recommended universal availability of all tiers of weight management services, and for individual clinicians to use every opportunity to help their patients to recognise and address the problems caused by obesity and poor diet, and to promote the benefits of physical activity.

Committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston MP said: "The extraordinary benefits of exercise in improving physical and mental health should be made clear and accessible to everyone, whatever their current level of fitness. The committee calls on the NHS, local authorities and the next government to work together to prioritise prevention and public health and we have set out achievable recommendations for action which could help to transform people's lives and wellbeing."

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