- PARIS (Reuters) - Medical experts warned on Monday that obesity was
rapidly becoming a problem in the developing world as well as industrialized
nations and could one day rival smoking in its impact on public health.
- "This is a pandemic, probably one
of the top five public health problems in the world. Scientists are already
beginning to wonder whether it will be worse than smoking," Dr. Philip
James told reporters at the start of the Eighth International Congress
on Obesity, which began on Monday in Paris.
- James, who heads a task force for the
International Association for the Study of Obesity, and other scientists
said there was considerable hope that new drugs would soon be coming on
line to help fat people lose weight and stay fit.
- Until then, they said, public health
officials in India and the South Pacific as well as the United States and
Australia should begin to modify eating behavior in both children and adults.
- "If we wait, in 10 to 20 years from
now it really looks like we are going to have a catastrophe on our hands,"
said James, who is also director of the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen,
Scotland, and head of a United Nations commission on nutrition.
- "We are emphasizing the need to
begin tackling the problem earlier, to deal with childhood weight problems
and to completely rethink the way we approach physical activity and diet
to ensure a healthy, active lifestyle," said Dr Stephen Rossner of
Stockholm's Karolinska Institute.
- Rossner dismissed the stereotype of the
jolly overweight person, saying research has found that obese individuals
generally are financially less well off and have a lower quality of life
than thinner people.
- "We can't rule out that there are
happy fat people. But the evidence is against it," he said.
- Organizers of the four-day conference
said the outlook was not all gloom and doom.
- They were particularly optimistic about
a new drug called orlistat that has been found in clinical trials to promote
weight loss by reducing the body's absorption of dietary fat.
- The drug, to be marketed by Roche Holdings
AG under the name Xenical, is to go on sale in Europe in September and
in the United States some time next year.
- U.S. approval was delayed when health
officials requested additional research on data hinting at a possible link
between orlistat and breast cancer.
- While orlistat has undergone extensive
testing in humans, the medical experts cautioned consumers against relying
on the many untested over-the-counter drugs that claim to help weight loss.
- "There is a great desire for weight-loss
drugs as everyone is tired of the 'eat less, exercise more' approach. But
there are so many fraudulent products and so many gullible people,"
- "I always tell my patients: 'You
use them at your own risk because there is no data demonstrating effectiveness
and they may not be safe'," said Dr. George Bray, president of the
International Association for the Study of Obesity.