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Monday 27 January 2020

Obesity expert on 'landmark moment' as he treats 'unweighable' 50-stone patient

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Stock photo
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

A leading medical consultant has spoken about a landmark moment in Ireland's battle with obesity, revealing he is treating a young patient weighing more than 330kg (51.9 stone) - too heavy for the hospital scales to weigh.

Three years after the stark warning from the World Health Organisation (Who) that Ireland is on course to become Europe's most obese nation, Prof Donal O'Shea said: "Our patients are getting bigger and they are getting younger." The professor - who has been at the forefront in Ireland's fight against obesity - told the Sunday Independent: "We had our first 'unweighable' patient on our scales.

"Our scales go up to 330kgs and we had a young person walk into the clinic who was over that. In this situation we just focused on other aspects of the patient's weight-related problems," he continued.

"Increasingly weight management clinics around the world are not able to weigh patients or are choosing not to, as they prefer to take the focus off a number that we know is very hard to shift. This allows you to set other meaningful targets like ability to self-care, tie shoe laces and increasing walking speed to cross the road safely."

Some 33pc of Irish adults will be obese by 2025, and this will lead to an annual cost to the State of €2.1bn.

Speaking about the life-altering situations his morbidly obese patients were facing on a daily basis, he said: "A number of GPs have spoken to me about patients who are totally confined to their homes because of their weight - and it's not immobility, it's can't get through the door frames.

"They will need to have the doors widened or knocked out when they die, or in the case of an emergency illness." "I recently travelled to Poland with a patient to talk to a meeting of GPs about the patient's perspective. It was a fascinating journey to walk at her pace through the airport, see the looks of disdain and disgust she is in receipt of all the time. Day-to-day living for the very obese individual is very challenging."

Dr O'Shea said the increasing weight and younger age profile of his patients "highlights that the environment is still winning in terms of driving obesity and that the food and drinks industry is still winning in terms of making the unhealthy choice the easy option".

And, in a stark warning about Ireland's future in terms of the obesity crisis, he said: "Things are levelling off with some evidence of reduction in the better-off and better-educated sections of society. But then you have a continued upward trend in the poorer parts of Ireland. This socioeconomic separation is the biggest challenge we face as a society in health terms."

He said: "If we continue on this track with the socio-economic separation we will have a true two-tier society with the best-off people living longer and with good access to healthcare, while the poorer with the largest illness burden will present later to a chronically underfunded health system that is already struggling to cope."

Asked what he would say to people who dismiss obesity statistics as being all down to 'personal responsibility', he said: "That's ignorance - and the kind of black-and-white view that, applied to any problem, is a recipe for argument. We know how complex a problem obesity is, genetically and environmentally. Personal responsibility is a key part of the solution - but not the whole thing."

Sunday Independent

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