Seven million Canadians are living with obesity, but are there enough resources available to them to help them grapple with their chronic disease?
A new report out of the Canadian Obesity Network is warning that Canada is falling short on offering access to obesity treatment. The organization is giving every province across the country failing grades in adequately helping those with obesity. Instead, patients are often left to fend for themselves.
“The problem with obesity is that although we have recognized it as a chronic disease, when you go to your doctor, often what you get told is to lose weight, but then you’re pretty much on your own with that,” Dr. Arya Sharma, scientific director of the Canadian Obesity Network, said.
He warned that another 1.5 million Canadians have severe obesity – and with it a string of complications, from diabetes to high blood pressure or heart disease.
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“We know that the burden on the health-care system is huge from all of these problems because when we look at all of the patients who are getting joint replacements, who are being treated for diabetes, who are being treated for heart attacks, a lot of these patients have that medical problem largely because of their body weight,” Sharma told Global News.
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He said that the country pours money into treating complications of obesity, but it would make “a lot more sense” if health officials targeted obesity instead.
There are treatment options but they come with limitations in Canada:
- Specialists and teams offer behavioural intervention, but only 40 Canadian physicians have formal training and certification to address obesity and weight management, the report said. There are more than 80,500 doctors in Canada.
- There are “very few” medically supervised weight-management programs, the report said. And when they’re available, they cost patients between $1,000 and $2,000. They’re only used as pre-surgery weight loss tools for patients on their way to bariatric surgery.
- Anti-obesity medications aren’t covered by any provincial or territorial drug benefit plan. There are only two anti-obesity drugs approved in Canada, too. Across the country, the network gave failing grades to provinces and territories for not offering assistance.
- Bariatric surgery is performed in only nine provinces in Canada – it isn’t done in Prince Edward Island or any of the territories. There are 113 surgeons and 33 centres where bariatric surgeries are performed. It’s only available to one in 183 Canadian adults who are eligible for it. Quebec is the only province that got a D grade for access to surgery – the remaining provinces got an F.
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What do these findings look like in a real-world setting? It means patients with obesity see their doctors and are told to lose weight, but they don’t receive any support on how to forge ahead.
Sharma said the report’s findings are “simply unacceptable” and that proper medical care needs to be doled out, especially as rates of obesity continue to escalate.
“As the report highlights, almost every province gets an F when it comes to access to care, whether you’re looking at services that include bariatric surgery, whether you’re looking at health professionals who are trained and qualified … virtually in all of these areas every single province gets an F,” Sharma told Global News.
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“We have to think about obesity as being a lifelong problem. Once you get it, it doesn’t matter how you got it. It’s pretty much a problem that you’re doing to be dealing with for the rest of your life,” Sharma said.
Read the full Canadian Obesity Network report published Tuesday morning.
(Infographic created by Canadian Obesity Network/Paris Green Creative)