A national conference on obesity and health was held at the University of Manchester on 7 and 8 February, bringing together delegates from the NHS, the voluntary and the commercial sectors. The purpose was to review current trends in the obesity epidemic and to discuss some of the approaches which can be taken to tackle it.
Many speakers explored the clinical effects of obesity on conditions such as diabetes and heart failure, while others looked at how different approaches to dietary management and physical activity could help avoid obesity. Some surprising evidence was presented by Dr Linda Voss of the Earlybird Research Centre in Plymouth, who showed that contrary to commonlyheld expectations, encouraging children to walk to school made little difference to their overall physical activity levels. Even more surprisingly, she showed that there was no reliable correlation between school sports facilities or the amount of physical education on the school curriculum and children's activity levels (it seems likely that children who have more organised physical activity in school simply compensate by being less active once they are at home).
However, the most interesting (and probably the most controversial) elements of the programme were those concerned with how health systems can respond when people are already obese. John Wilding from the University of Liverpool, showed how drugs could be used to help support weight loss and weight management. However, his suggestion that some people might need to be medicated for many years in order to lose a few additional kilos was certainly one that does not command immediate appeal. Do we really want to 'medicalise' obesity to the point where people are on drugs for the rest of their lives? Would this kind of solution offer better value for shareholders of pharmaceutical companies than to the NHS?
Ameet Patel from King's College hospital …