Saturday, July 30, 2011

Obesity war failing

Heavy-handed tactics aimed at making families seek help for overweight children are a waste of time, an obesity expert declared last night.

David Haslam, a leading GP and chairman of the UK’s National Obesity Forum, says his fellow doctors can spot overweight children the minute they walk through the door. ‘The problem isn’t identifying these people, it’s getting them motivated to lose weight and reduce their risks of disease,’ he said.

His comments came in response to a study showing that most parents who receive letters about the health risks of their children being fat do very little about it.

Dr Haslam, who is a GP in Hertfordshire, said: ‘Sending letters to parents like this is a waste of time. It’s the duty of the healthcare professional, doctor or nurse, when they see a patient whose weight is putting their health at risk to seize the moment – children’s lives are at stake.’

The research comes as experts predict two out of three children could be obese by 2050 if current trends continue. More than one in five is obese at present – so fat it threatens their health.

In the study, researchers at Bristol University contacted 285 families with children aged between five and 16 who were obese. The data came from GP records which had noted the children’s Body Mass Index (BMI) – the measure of weight and height which determines obesity – in the last two years.

The families were all sent a letter telling them their child was significantly overweight and offering them the chance to see their GP about it.

Just 47 per cent of the parents consulted doctors and barely 15 per cent of those who took up the offer ended up with a record of their child’s weight in GP records, suggesting the issue had not been thoroughly investigated. Just 25 fat children ended up in specialist clinics, according to the report in the British Journal of General Practice.

Researcher Dr Jonathan Banks, from the university’s school of social and community medicine, said one in two parents had rejected the opportunity to discuss their child’s weight problems. He said ‘Previous research has found that parents of overweight children find it difficult to seek help from a health professional and that many do not recognise overweight or obesity in their children. ‘It might be expected that parents who were unsure about how to deal with their child’s weight would be prompted by the letter, but the very low take-up suggests resistance to addressing the issue.’

Co-researcher Professor Julian Shields, professor of paediatrics at the university who runs weight management clinics, said GPs also seemed reluctant to deal with an often embarrassing subject with their patients. He said ‘It’s still a taboo area but things have got to change, this is one of the most pressing problems for our children. ‘But it’s difficult for GPs to say to parents their child is fat and something needs to be done without sounding rude, indifferent or blunt’ he added.

A scheme to measure fat children at school, and send warning letters to parents, attracted much criticism when it was launched in 2006, not least because many parents refused to give consent for their children to be screened. Heavier children were more likely to opt out.

Dr Haslam, who is a GP in Hertfordshire, said the latest research showed that better ways were necessary to motivate children and adults with weight problems into shedding the pounds. He said ‘Sending letters to parents like this is a waste of time.

‘The problem is not lack of access to obese children and adults, it’s getting them engaged and motivated into losing weight and keeping it off in the long term. ‘It’s the duty of the healthcare professional, doctor or nurse, when they see a patient whose weight is putting their health at risk to seize the moment – children’s lives are at stake.

‘If a child comes into the surgery with a thorn in a finger, take out the thorn and then ask then what they’re doing about trying to lose weight and how can we help’ he added.


Faith can be a great healer

I am an atheist but if I were a medical professional, I would never discourage religious devotion

With a ten per cent chance of survival, he needed a miracle - and that's exactly what God gave him. Jacob Berger, from Indiana, was diagnosed in 2002 with stage four cancer that was spreading from the upper part of his throat to his brain.

With the size of the tumour, doctors said the chances of him being alive in three or four years was ten per cent. He had already lost his younger sister to a rare form of cancer in 1991, then his mother to breast cancer in 2002. His dad died two years after his diagnosis in 2004.

But Jacob Berger is now cancer free after, he said, God spoke to him and told him to stop his treatment. He did, and he attributes that message to his life and says he is living proof that beating cancer sometimes takes more than medicine.

Not only that, but when he was undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and radiation to shrink his tumour, he became sterile. Or so he thought. He now has two children and another on the way.

Speaking to ABC, he said: 'I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like God told me to stop taking the treatments, and told me it was over now. 'I had confidence that my prayers were going to be answered, and that God was a healer and was going to take care of me.' He listened to the divine advice and when he went for his next MRI, he learned his cancer was gone.

After his cancer diagnosis and losing his father, Mr Berger turned his life around and devoted it to God, joining the Church of Rock.

He said: 'I had two choices - give in to this illness or fight the good fight of faith, and I chose to fight the good fight of faith.'

Although he believes divine intervention worked for him, he would never recommend that anyone stop their treatments. He told ABC: 'I've personally ministered to people with cancer and told them don't refuse what doctors are saying, don't just be ignorant and not go to the doctor. 'I tell them to let them confirm that God is moving in their life.'

Dr Renato LaRocca, Berger's doctor and director of the Kentuckiana Cancer Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, said the odds were against Mr Berger's surviving. He said that while his four treatments played a part in his recovery, he can't explain why Mr Berger is still cancer-free nine years later.

He said: 'Maybe his immune system woke up, maybe there was a lot of mental and spiritual depression, and once he got that focus, that's what helped, but I never underestimate the power of the mind.'

But Mr Berger is defiant. He said: 'It was absolutely a miracle. The bone that had eroded has been replaced by brand new bone and there is no scar tissue.'


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