Obese people in their 40s 'so unfit they move as slowly as a pensioner'
Obese people in their 40s or even younger can have as little mobility as pensioners and struggle to cross the road at traffic lights, a new study has said.
Physiotherapist Emer O'Malley, of the weight management clinic in St Columcille's Hospital, Dublin, said there were indications that obese people were now getting slower.
Walking speeds have dropped to an average of 1.1 to 1.0 metres per second when crossing the road at traffic lights. On average, a person needs to move at 1.2m metres per second to beat the changing light.
"When we measure the pace of obese patients over three metres, it is like that of someone aged 65 or older," said Ms O'Malley, who will present findings to the annual conference of the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists in Sligo this week.
The weight management clinic in St Columcille's can see only 200 new patients annually and has a waiting list of three years.
She said some obese people may only be getting out of their homes once or twice a week and this was a serious worry.
One in 20 may have stopped leaving their homes entirely.
The target for the patients is not necessarily an emphasis on weight loss but more on increasing their quality of life and improving their function and quality of life.
"We look at functional changes, quality of sleep, joint pain and back pain," said Ms O'Malley.
"With support, people can learn to manage their weight better. It is hard to change.
"A lot of people think it's all or nothing and we will put them on a treadmill and make them go to the gym. But a lot of it is about monitoring their activities.
"They might decide to walk for one or two minutes an hour. They build up activity in that way . It's about doing what they enjoy and slowly building it up.
"It is also important they learn how to control their breathing when walking. It builds up their fitness over time."
The unit, which provides a range of specialist services including psychological support and dietary advice, is seeing teenagers as young as 16 and also treats people in their 70s.
There are only two weight management clinics in the country with the other in Galway, but there are currently 60,000 severely obese adults in Ireland.
Ms O'Malley will speak to the physiotherapists' conference about obesity hypoventilation syndrome (OHS), which causes a high rate of mortality among severely obese people.
It happens where carbon dioxide builds up in the blood and the body doesn't get rid of it during waking hours in daytime leading to lower energy levels, lower concentration levels.
Patients are sleepier and their lifestyle choices are affected, alertness drops and their mental health suffers, impacting on their quality of life.
There was insufficient awareness of OHS, she added.
The aim is to have it recognised earlier in patients given that, if it is not treated, then mortality can increase by as much as 23pc in just 18 months.