Spotlight on improving medical care for people who are overweight

HSE Press Release: Thursday, 29th August

One in every six Irish adults aged 15-64 are overweight or obese

75% of people in the 50+ age group are overweight or obese

 At least one in every five children (across the ages of 3, 5 and 9)  are overweight or obese

 The total lifetime costs of childhood obesity in Ireland are €4.6 billion

Today, 29th August 2019, at the RCPI Kildare Street, the HSE’s National Obesity Clinical Programme, in conjunction with the Royal College of Physicians, hosted an inaugural Summer School on improving medical care for people who are overweight. 

Planning for Health, (HSE, 2017), highlights the growing rates of adult obesity as an important trend that will significantly impact on rates of illness and premature death in Ireland. Obesity is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a chronic disease, similar to high blood pressure or diabetes, in that it is often progressive and can require life-long management.  It is also an underlying risk factor for the development of other chronic diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. 

One in every six adults in Ireland aged 15-64 are overweight or obese, with the prevalence for those in the 50+ age group rising to 75%.  Irish data from the WHO-Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative and ESRI Growing Up in Ireland research shows that at least one in every five children across the ages of 3, 5 and 9 years are overweight or obese.  The adverse consequences of childhood obesity can be life-long and even continue into subsequent generations.

The total lifetime costs of childhood obesity in Ireland are €4.6 billion. A reduction in population level BMI of just 5% is estimated to reduce the lifetime costs of childhood obesity by €1.1 billion (safefood 2017).  The cost of adult obesity in Ireland, in 2009, was conservatively estimated to be €1.13 billion, with direct healthcare costs of €450m (safefood 2009). 

Dr. Brendan O’Shea, ICGP and Chair of the RCPI Clinical Advisory Group on Obesity commented that:

“The great level of interest in the summer school reflects the thirst for information and knowledge on the management of obesity.  Obesity is increasingly one of the most significant challenges our health system is facing, and we’re not alone in this – it is a global challenge”. 

In welcoming attendees, Professor Donal O’Shea, HSE Clinical Lead for Obesity, commented:

“We are in a very challenging position with managing overweight and obesity. As health professionals we know there is much more we need to be doing within the health system for what is a major driver of chronic illness for most people using our health system”.

The sessions were led by members of the RCPI Obesity Clinical Advisory Group, and included expert contributions on a wide range of topics from obesity in pregnancy to a ‘whole-of-society’ approach to prevention.  A key focus of the afternoon was on hearing feedback on the Clinical Programmes’ recommendations and principles for improving medical care for people with overweight. 

Key recommendations include:

People attending for medical care can expect that:

  • their weight should be routinely checked
  • they should receive professional and consistent advice regarding their weight if overweight.
  • Improved co-ordination to deliver integrated care and services for patients.
  • Address the inequalities in service provision, particularly for the people who are seriously overweight. 

In addition, outlining specific principles to underpin planning and delivery of medical care, Dr Brendan O’Shea, chair of the RCPI Clinical Advisory Group highlighted that:

“Rapidly implementing Slaintecare and programmes such Making Every Contact Count across the health services are crucial to supporting the capacity of Primary Care to better manage and support patients who are overweight. These will be complemented by fuller implementation of the cross-sectoral Healthy Ireland Framework and Healthy Weight for Ireland: Obesity Policy and Action Plan, to help create environments and communities that support health and wellbeing”.

Professor Donal O’Shea also spoke about bariatric surgery for people who are seriously overweight:

“While in line with the vision of Slaintecare to put a focus on shifting to a primary care led model of medical care, we also need to align this with an increase in capacity in public hospital services so that people who are seriously overweight have equitable access to evidence-based, effective treatment in the form of bariatric surgery... 

In 2018, the HSE carried out just 12 surgeries per head of population in Ireland, compared with 600 in France. While bariatric surgery is not a complete solution in itself, it is an essential part of a whole-of-health system response, particularly for that substantial minority of people who are seriously overweight.  It is clearer now that a failure to build capacity in bariatric surgery will lead to increased health costs in both the short and longer term.”


Last updated on: 29 / 08 / 2019