Surgery is one way to tackle obesity, but only as a last resort

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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It is in many respects a sad milestone in Northern Ireland that a weight loss surgery centre is set to be established in the Province.

The planned unit will focus on the South West hospital in Fermanagh.

The proposal was unveiled yesterday by a civil servant, Richard Pengelly (that it was not unveiled by a minister was itself a sad reminder of the weakness of the British government in not introducing direct rule).

But there seems to be sound science behind the surgery centre decision.

It is said that in some cases, so-called bariatric surgery can lead to significant weight loss and even reverse obesity-related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes. The rise of Type 2 diabetes is one of the many alarming manifestations of increased obesity in countries around the first world.

While overall life expectancy has risen dramatically, increased numbers of overweight people and high levels of what could almost be called addiction to sugar is one of the health trends that has been moving in the wrong direction.

It was welcome that yesterday’s announcement emphasised that prevention was the most important response to the obesity problem, involving diet and exercise.

Obesity is a problem among children, not just adults. Young people who get into a habit of inactivity and sugary foods will find it all the more difficult to improve their lifestyle as they get older.

Last year sugar tax, the ‘Soft Drinks Industry Levy’, came into effect in the UK. It mirrored legislation in other parts of the world, as countries across the globe try to tackle obesity.

That measure taxes drinks manufacturers according to the volume of sugar-sweetened beverages they produce.

Deterrence will be part of the mix in the response to the problem of excess weight. Tackling symptoms, such as via surgery, will be another. But intensive education on lifestyle, at school and at home and via advertisements, is best of all.