DOCTORS have been told they need to record obesity on more death certificates – with one in four people now classed in the weight category.
Dr John Ryan, a histopathologist at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth, said obesity is being under-recorded and should be listed if a contributory factor to the disease from which the patient died.
He told a conference in Dublin that body mass index (BMI) over 35 – which places the person in the obese category – should be recorded if weight is a contributory factor to the disease.
"Obesity is associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease, prothrombotic states, diabetes, and a number of malignancies," he told the meeting at the Royal College of Physicians.
Dr Ryan, who carried out a study with Dr Donal O'Shea and Dr Claire Buckley of St Columcille's Hospital in Dublin, pointed out that recent data shows that 37pc of the Irish adult population are overweight and a further 24pc are obese.
"From 2007-2012, an average of 28,339 people died annually in Ireland," he said. Obesity or elevated BMI was on the medical certificate on average just 84 times a year.
It appeared 50 times in 2007 rising to 144 in 2012.
He pointed out that from 2007-2012 around 5,800 post-mortems were performed annually for the Coroner Service. Some 14 of 19 post-mortem rooms in the country have the facilities to weigh bodies.
Doctors who sign death certificates should be aware of the importance of BMI and all post-mortem rooms should have a facility to weigh bodies, he said.
The BMI of the deceased should form part of all post-mortem reports – both pathologists and coroners should be aware of the importance of inclusion in the death certificate if appropriate, he added.
Being obese can increase the risk of health problems, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, asthma, liver disease and kidney disease.
While there are no official figures for obesity-related deaths in the Republic, it is believed to be implicated in around 450 deaths annually in Northern Ireland.
The World Health Organisation warned that obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of the age and that it has reached "epidemic proportions worldwide".
There has been a dramatic rise in deaths in England in which obesity was a contributory factor.
An analysis of death certificate trends between 2000 and 2006 published in the 'European Journal of Public Health' showed an average annual rise of obesity mentions on death certificates of 8pc for men and 4pc for women. But there were likely to be many more such deaths where obesity was not recorded, the researchers said.