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The Australian health system is failing people struggling with obesity

Photo: Health system 'failing' obese Australians
A leading expert in obesity management is calling for fairer access to 'highly effective' bariatric surgery in Australia.

The Australian health system is failing people struggling with obesity, a conference of physicians will hear this week.

Research shows just 1 in 60 overweight or obese children are offered help in weight management from their doctor and "highly effective" bariatric surgery isn't easily accesible to those who need it most, says childhood obesity expert Professor Lousie Baur from the University of Sydney and The Children's Hospital at Westmead.

In an appeal to her colleagues at The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) 2017 Conference in Adelaide this week, the pediatrician will argue that medical professionals need to be more "mindful" when they next encounter a severe weight problem.
Related CPD Training: Care of Clients with Bariatric Needs - Developed by the Royal District Nursing Service

"People with obesity quite commonly go to their doctor for a variety of reasons but they're treated for that main issue and often the underlying health issue to do with obesity isn't really addressed during the consultation," she said.

"Of every 200 children who go to a GP in Australia, 60 are affected by overweight or obesity and one gets offered some form of treatment," Prof Baur told AAP.

This is a very real concern, she says.

"In a number of ways the health system is failing people affected by obesity."

One of those ways is a lack of training, Prof Baur said.

A recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found doctors had problems identifying obesity, difficulty discussing it with patients and did not have the appropriate training to manage it.

Obesity is a 21st century health issue - the prevalence almost doubling in the last 40 years - but there hasn't been a change in the way doctors and nurses are trained so they can confidently treat people effectively, says Prof Baur.

Inequitable access to bariatric surgery is another way the health system is failing obesity patients, argues Prof Baur.

Data from the Bariatric Surgery Registry at Monash University shows only 13 per cent of the surgical procedures are performed in the public hospital system.

Severe obesity is more common in people socially disadvantaged yet they find it harder to access bariatric surgery - a procedure to reduce or remove part of the stomach to help with weight loss.

Prof Baur says the procedure can make a profound difference and it's "baffling" that many overweight patients find it easier to have their hip replaced in the public system, a surgery often required as a result of carrying too much weight.

President of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), Dr Catherine Yelland agrees there needs to be greater public access.

"We would like to see it as part of the overall management approach to obesity, that when we can see very obese people who would benefit from surgery it should be accessible like other treatments for any other medical condition are," she told AAP.

Prof Baur will address the topic of obesity at the RACP Congress 2017 to be held in Adelaide this week.

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