Health professionals and patients fear that the economic difficulties that are already being felt in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the stopping of treatments will increase the numbers of obesity in the country.
“All conditions for obesity to increase are created, people are left with less possessions, with less money, treatments are stopped,” said the president of the Association of the Obese and Ex-Obese in Portugal (ADEXO), Carlos Oliveira, to Lusa agency on the National Day for the Fight against Obesity, which takes place on Saturday, May 23.
In addition to people having “less money”, which “requires less healthy eating”, confinement also means that “many people do not exercise at all”. “Obesity will increase, but other diseases that will appear with obesity will also increase” and that “will spend money on the State because they are all reimbursed”, he warned.
The president of the Portuguese Society for the Study of Obesity (SPEO), Paula Freitas, also warned of this situation, noting that all studies show that obesity and pre-obesity are more prevalent in the most disadvantaged social classes.
Economic problems can potentially aggravate the problem of obesity even more, people have less access to the right food ”, but they may also“ have less accessibility to health care or any pharmacological therapy because the drugs for this disease are not reimbursed ”, said the endocrinologist to Lusa.
According to the expert, the fact that there is “an aggravation of economic difficulties” following the pandemic makes people end up buying “cheaper foods, but which are very high in fat, salt and sugar in detriment of a more correct, more varied diet, with horticultural products, meat, fish ”. Everyone must “look at obesity” as a disease that is also “a risk factor for more than 200 associated pathologies”, which is why “it is very important to treat the cause from the beginning and not just the consequences”.
Since the prevalence of obesity has increased in recent years, the scientific community, health professionals, but also civil society, must unite in a “huge fight” to stop its increase “and preferably try to regress the numbers” of this disease in Portugal, where about 60% of people are obese or pre-obese.
Given that Portugal was one of the first countries to recognize obesity as a disease, SPEO would like to see it treated as “the serious condition it is”. “There is a need for a more timely diagnosis and referral within the health system, betting on the promotion of better health education and the correct promotion of weight loss”, he defended in a statement.
There is also a need for a restructuring of the existing treatment programs in the country: “It is necessary to provide health professionals in Primary Health Care with knowledge about the global treatment of obesity, but also with physical and economic means”.
To mark the National Day for the Fight against Obesity, organizations launched the ‘website’ ‘The Truth About Weight’ (www.averdadeobreopeso.com), with scientifically validated information on the various factors that can influence overweight: genetics, hormones, environment, biological and psychological aspects of each individual, sleep and stress.
Experts and patient associations warned this Thursday of the effects that the suspension of surgeries and consultations due to the Covid-19 pandemic can have on the aggravation of the obesity problem in Portugal, where 62% of the population is obese or pre-obese.
The warning comes on the eve of the National Day for the Fight against Obesity, May 23, through the voice of the Portuguese Society for the Study of Obesity (SPEO), the Association of the Obese and Ex-Obese in Portugal (ADEXO), Portuguese Association Against Childhood Obesity (APCOI) and the Portuguese Association of Bariatrics (APOBARI).
Speaking to Lusa, SPEO President Paula Freitas said that the pandemic could have an impact on waiting lists for bariatric surgery and “the number of patients who will be given surgery this year” due to the cancellation of consultations.
In-person consultations at the hospital level were abolished unless it was urgent and I speak for Hospital São João [no Porto] where I work “, said the endocrinologist, saying that since last week they have been making” a huge effort, trying to make six to eight appointments per morning “.
Doctors hope to “have conditions, and if everything improves”, to “try to recover not only the waiting lists that already existed, but also what happened in the last few months”.
The president of ADEXO, Carlos Oliveira, also expressed concern to Lusa about the possible increase in waiting lists for surgery, since “there are people who are not even on any list” and in need of consultation and treatment. “If you think health is expensive, try the pandemic. We have already experienced the pandemic at this point, ”he said, arguing that these patients must be treated.
When it comes to obesity, we are simultaneously treating cardiovascular problems, breathing problems, joint problems, diabetes and some cancers. Therefore, not having this treatment means that all these diseases will grow ”, he warned.
The president of APOBARI, Marisa Oliveira, also stressed the importance of access to surgeries, because they contribute to treating many cases almost definitively, improving the quality of life of these people who are no longer a “risk group”.
“Even during the pandemic it is necessary to continue to treat people with obesity surgically, because in addition to treating this disease, we are also decreasing the risk of complications in case of infection by covid-19”, maintained Marisa Oliveira.
Experts and patients also remember that obesity is a disease that represents a risk factor for the development of complications in the context of Covid-19 infection.
Studies show that obese patients, especially with morbid obesity, have an increased risk of complications when infected ”, because many have associated diseases, such as diabetes, sleep apnea, breathing problems, cardiovascular diseases, which can cause“ have worse outcomes, ”said Paula Freitas.
According to the expert, the highest mortality rates due to Covid-19 have been observed in older patients, patients with morbid obesity and patients with cardiovascular pathologies.
“It is essential to remember that, like Covid-19, obesity is also a public health problem in Portugal and must be treated as such”, defended Carlos Oliveira, stressing that it is necessary to “look seriously at the need for co-participation pharmacological treatment and above all to promote healthy lifestyle habits so that those who are already overweight do not aggravate their problem due to the pandemic ”.
Data on the impact of the pandemic on childhood obesity in Portugal are not yet available, but APCOI estimates that confinement has a direct impact on children’s body weight, which could translate into an average increase of 10%.
If each child on average consumes about 200-300 extra calories a day without having increased their energy expenditure with exercise by the same proportion, they may have suffered a weight gain of at least two kilos in the last two months, estimates APCOI.