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Countries must work together to fight obesity

Sharing lessons learnt is crucial as obesity levels across the world continue to rise

Yesterday was World Obesity Day and a day to share ideas on how to arrest that steadily growing waistline.

Obesity is a leading cause of diabetes, which Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called a "health crisis" in his National Day Rally speech last year.

One reason why it is so hard to treat obesity is that being overweight is still quite stigmatised and difficult to talk about.

Studies in Denmark show that failed diets and dropouts of weight-loss programmes are less influenced by economic and demographic factors than by the degree of social support.

In other words, we have to work together to fight obesity.

Denmark is actively committed to fighting obesity and diabetes but cannot yet claim victory.

Over the last 33 years, no country has found the cure to reverse rising obesity levels.

Globally, the number of obese people has tripled over 40 years.

Denmark recently launched an action plan for the treatment of diabetes and obesity, one that puts people and social relations front and centre.

Only through understanding, respect and recognition of obesity as a chronic disease can governments and healthcare services prioritise and fund effective prevention and treatment to reduce the burden on individuals and societies as a whole.

Central to adopting a people-centric approach is allowing those who are obese to live their lives with fewer - not further - restrictions.

Keeping one's obesity private, unlike other diseases, is a practical impossibility. It is the first thing one shows. It affects all aspects of interactions in one's work life, social life and love life. These struggles should be understood.

The response can take the form of multi-disciplinary social services, training healthcare workers and, most importantly, a public discourse on obesity in line with concealed diseases such as diabetes.

The responsibility of ending weight stigma lies at a personal, public and political level. It calls for collaboration between media and the masses.

It is important to improve the lives of those suffering from obesity, but it is also important to act for the sake of society as a whole.

In Singapore alone, the estimated cost of obesity was $2.77 billion in 2016, from lost productivity and healthcare spending. Given the obesity forecasts, the economic burden will only rise.

Worldwide, lost productivity accounts for between 54 per cent and 59 per cent of the obesity-related economic burden.

Individuals with obesity have an additional 3.1 days of absence yearly. An additional 5.1 days a year is lost in reduced productivity compared to employees of normal weight.

Obesity is directly linked to a range of chronic diseases responsible for most deaths caused by non-communicable diseases.

These include cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and various forms of cancers. Weight loss of just 5 per cent to 10 per cent greatly reduces the severity and improves quality of life.

Singapore is fighting the war on diabetes and Denmark is a global leader in diabetes treatment and holistic social care.

Through open dialogue and sharing lessons learnt, we can move the dial on obesity.

World Obesity Day advocates an end to weight stigma, and the day is an important anchor to change the way we speak about being overweight and end isolation.

The writer is the Ambassador of Denmark to Singapore.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in The Business Times yesterday.

MEDICAL & HEALTH