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LOUGHBOROUGH, UK: Most of the UK population visit their dentist annually, and researchers from Loughborough University think that this primary care health service could be harnessed to help address the growing problem of obesity. A new research project is investigating the role that dentists could play in reducing obesity in the UK, and the researchers are hoping to hear from dental practitioners who are interested in being involved.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the prevalence of obesity has nearly tripled since 1975, and the NHS says that, in the UK, around 25% of adults and 20% of children aged 10 to 11 years are considered obese. A press release from Loughborough University explained that, for some time, general practitioners and nurses in the country have been raising the subject of weight management during patient consultations. Dentists have been overlooked in this process, however, despite the fact that they already deliver messages to their patients concerning behavioural changes such as smoking cessation and lowering sugar consumption.
In a study led by Dr Amanda Daley, professor of behavioural medicine in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences and director of the Centre for Lifestyle Medicine and Behaviour at the university, researchers are working with dentists in order to assess how they could deliver weight management interventions to their patients.
Prof. Daley said in the press release that the case for dentists to become involved in reducing obesity was strong, owing to the fact that they, like general practitioners, are part of primary care health services and are ideally positioned to screen for obesity and help in reducing the condition. She explained: “They typically consult with most of the population at least yearly, meaning they could routinely embed efficient monitoring of weight into dental health services and offer interventions at scale to both adults and children.”
She added: “If we are serious about reducing obesity in the population it will require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach, including active advocacy from dental health professionals.”
The research will run for two years, and dentists who are interested in becoming involved with the project are encouraged to contact the research team using the email address email@example.com.
“If we are serious about reducing obesity in the population it will require an ‘all hands on deck’ approach” – Prof. Amanda Daley, Loughborough University
Dr Jessica Large, a dentist who is involved with the project, said that it was important to consider how all health professionals could help to reduce obesity in the population and that dentists might be able to help.
She explained: “Routine body mass index screening for children and healthy weight discussions are already ongoing in some hospital dental settings, with positive feedback from families and dental teams. I am looking forward to exploring the wider acceptability amongst the profession and public.”
Prof. Daley outlined the context for a potential intervention by dentists in the reduction of obesity in an opinion piece published in the British Dental Journal in January, which can be viewed here.
Obesity steadily on the rise
Dental professionals around the world will no doubt be monitoring the research, given the extent to which the prevalence of obesity is increasing. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 42.4% of adults in the US were obese in 2018, up from 30.5% at the turn of millennium. As well as causing health conditions that are among the leading causes of preventable death in the country, the financial cost of obesity is considerable. The CDC estimated that medical costs related to obesity reached US$147.0 billion (€103.6 billion) in 2008.
Whereas obesity was once primarily a concern in high-income countries, the health condition is steadily on the rise in low- and middle-income countries. According to WHO, most of the global population now live in countries where more people die from conditions related to being overweight than those who die from conditions related to being underweight.
Devex reported in April last year that the prevalence of obesity was increasing annually in African countries—18.4% of women and 7.8% of men on the continent were living with obesity in 2021, up from 12.0% and 4.1% in 2000, respectively. According to the development news organisation, addressing the obesity problem on the continent is difficult owing to a lack of understanding about the condition. “Obesity has just not really been understood as a health challenge,” Johanna Ralston, chief executive officer of the World Obesity Federation, told Devex.
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