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Obesity can be treated – greater awareness required

World Obesity Day on 04 March – online event at MedUni Vienna/Vienna General Hospital
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(Vienna, 25 February 2021) Obesity is a chronic disease that can result in premature death. 2.1 billion people throughout the world are already overweight, 671 million of these are obese – measured on the basis of a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 kg/m². This not only affects their well-being but also constitutes a serious health risk. Obese people also have to contend with secondary diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. At the same time, the condition is still widely stigmatised. To mark the occasion of World Obesity Day this coming Thursday (04 March), experts from MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital are raising awareness of the issue with an online event, where they will also propose solutions.

"However, obesity is one of the last forms of discrimination that is still "socially acceptable" in our society," points out Bianca Itariu, obesity expert at the Department of Medicine III. "This means that, in many cases, treatment options are not discussed early enough, and it is harder to access treatment. Firstly, Health Insurers do not reimburse treatment with drugs, even though it is licensed, and secondly, the fact that bariatric surgery cannot be offered without senior medical authorisation and a large number of assessments, it is likewise more difficult to access."

Bariatric surgery ensures lasting weight reduction and, in many cases, is the best option for helping the patient, explains the head of the specialist gastroesophageal–obesity clinic at MedUni Vienna and Vienna General Hospital, Gerhard Prager. The operation has been shown to have lasting benefit: "Our studies show that the long-term effects make gastric bypass the most effective treatment for extreme obesity. Even ten years on from the operation, most patients are considerably lighter than they were before it." However, less than 5% of obese people in Austria undergo bariatric surgery every year – and on top of that, the costs of drug treatment are not covered by health insurances, criticise the obesity experts.

"Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that obese individuals have a higher risk of severe disease. According to WHO, approximately 2 million people have so far died from COVID-19. However, according to WHO, 2.8 million people also die every year from the consequences of obesity," point out Prager and Itariu.

The lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic have led to the launch of programmes designed to combat obesity more effectively, for example in the UK. Since stigmatisation plays a disproportionate role in this disease, laws have been passed in countries such as Italy, Germany, Portugal and Holland to recognise obesity as a disease and to guarantee sufferers the right to treatment. That would also be desirable in Austria, stress the experts, speaking on the occasion of World Obesity Day on 04 March 2021: "As the hospital departments that deal with it, we feel obliged to draw attention to these facts and want to provide a platform to help give interested parties a better medical overview of obesity and its treatment."

Online event on World Obesity Day on 04 March 2021 (16 – 17:45 hrs)
Successfully treating obesity – preventing secondary diseases. Experts impart information and answer your questions. Link to the stream: