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Conversation with overweight patients must be had sensitively, warn weight loss experts

Slimming World

3 min read Partner content

Weight loss experts, Slimming World, respond to Dame Carol Black's report which advocates forcing overweight people on benefits to speak to health professionals. 

Yesterday, Dame Carol Black published an independent review into the impact on employment outcomes of drug or alcohol addiction and obesity.

Her report said overweight people on benefits should be forced to talk to health professionals about their struggle to find work.

Dame Carol's report said it was “too simplistic” to suggest obesity was a result of individual choices and found no “consistent evidence” that weight levels and unemployment were linked.

“We conclude that mandating of clinical treatment should not be the first response to the evident problems of cohorts under this study in getting back to work,” the report said.

“However we do recommend trialling in selected areas a requirement that claimants for health-related benefits have a structured discussion, with an appropriate healthcare professional, about the barriers to work facing that individual, and possible means of overcoming them.”

The conversations could be helpful, evidenced by a recent report published in the Lancet which revealed patients can be motivated to lose weight by having a brief conversation with their GP. Using those conversations to signpost patients to effective support like Slimming World increased the proportion of those achieving successful weight loss.

Dame Carol’s suggestion may prompt GPs to have a conversation they are avoiding, as the report also showed that in most consultations, health professionals do not discuss weight with patients who have an obese BMI, citing lack of time and fear of causing offence among the key reasons for not raising the issue.

Responding to Dame Carol’s report, Slimming World’s Head of External Affairs, Jenny Caven urged that proposed ‘conversations’ with doctors should be done with sensitivity, warning:

“We need to be more aware of how discrimination can impact on people’s emotional and psychological wellbeing and lifestyle behaviours. Criticism of overweight people is widespread and not only rude and unpleasant – as with any form of abuse and discrimination -- it’s also unlikely to motivate anyone to lose weight. In fact it’s more likely to drive them to taking refuge and comfort in less healthy behaviours.

“We recognise that overweight people endure a double burden: the burden of weight, but also of guilt and shame. It is vitally important that people who struggle with their weight are never judged, humiliated or discounted and are given appropriate behaviour change support and guidance that is compassionate and caring as well as realistic and sustainable.”

Lib Dem health spokesperson, Norman Lamb MP, welcomed the report saying it is “a victory for common decency that the Government has opted against the deeply unfair and draconian path of restricting access to benefits.” 

“Anyone with weight, drug or alcohol problems must receive clear dietary advice and support for healthy living, but this will be much harder to achieve given the deep cuts we are witnessing to public health budgets. The burden is likely to fall on GPs and other health professionals in the NHS who are already under massive strain.”

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