A major initiative to tackle the growing epidemic of obesity launched in Finland today, with a campaign for improved medical education and a new register of obesity expertise in Europe.
At a conference of experts in Helsinki, the International Obesity TaskForce, in collaboration with the European Association for the Study of Obesity, unveiled an ambitious new programme to provide formal recognition of obesity specialists. The IOTF-SCOPE network will also provide online education for GPs and nurses to improve their knowledge of how to deal with patients who need weight management.
The prevalence of obesity in Europe has risen dramatically in recent years, doubling and trebling in some countries, according to the IOTF. In its report, Obesity in Europe, the organisation revealed a massive problem, which is linked to the rising levels of type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and some forms of cancer, as well as psycho-social problems, osteoarthritis and a range of other co-morbidities.
The IOTF-SCOPE (Specialist Certification of Obesity Professional in Europe) programme will recognise and encourage high standards for top rank obesity clinicians. To qualify as Fellows, the medical doctors involved will have to fulfil specific criteria, including demonstrating their involvement in research, academic publications and at least five years experience at a senior level in the treatment of obese patients.
The experts will form core teams to provide an education network to provide additional skills for primary care physicians and other specialists who may need focused training in obesity prevention and management. The scheme also aims to train health professionals such as practice nurses, pharmacists and other related paramedics to become IOTF SCOPE 'Counsellors'.
IOTF chairman Prof Philip James, who leads the steering group pioneering the new programme, said few doctors received an appropriate degree of training in nutritional health and weight management: "There is a desperate need for a better informed medical profession both among specialists and general practice. Eventually we hope to extend the reach of this programme to include non-medical personnel as well. "
Prof Vojtech Hainer, chair of the separate European Obesity Management Task Force which is working in collaboration with IOTF, said a survey undertaken by the group in 24 countries had found sparse provision for obesity treatment.
"In some cases there is only one specialist to cover 16 million people, and in the worst examples there can be a ratio of 100,000 obese patients to one qualified expert consultant. There is a massive problem throughout Europe and we recognise we must act on this urgently, " added Prof Hainer, head of an obesity specialist unit in Prague.
Prof Peter Kopelman, incoming president of EASO, who is one of the few specialists in obesity in the UK, said:"New guidelines on obesity management in adults will shortly be available. EASO is working closely with the IOTF on the SCOPE programme to improve the recognition of obesity specialists across Europe and to commence a new series of pan-European training programmes available to general practitioners and more specialised physicians to enhance the quality of obesity care."
Topics to be discussed at this weekend's 12th Congress on Obesity, include 'Is it all in the genes? by Sadaf Farooqi, United Kingdom, 'Reducing cancer risk by diet and weight control', by Inger Thune, Norway and 'The health risks facing an obese generation,' from Dénes Molnar, Hungary.