Health experts urge scientific interventions to combat obesity

Updated: May 14, 2024 Xinhua Print
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BEIJING -- The 10th China Obesity Science Conference, jointly organized by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC) and several other organizations in Beijing, concluded on Saturday.

The two-day event underscored the seriousness of obesity as an escalating public health concern and the importance of scientific interventions and proper policies to tackle it.

According to a 2020 report by China's National Health Commission (NHC), 34.3 percent of the country's citizens aged 18 and above were overweight and 16.4 percent were obese. Research predicts that the overweight and obesity rate among Chinese adults might reach 65.3 percent by 2030.

Overweight and obesity are regarded as a major obstacle to realizing China's long-term health goals, such as raising the average life expectancy to 79 by 2030, as proposed in the country's Outline of Healthy China 2030.

Speaking at the conference, Guo Yanhong, director of the Health Emergency Response Office of the NHC, said that addressing obesity is a key point in preventing and treating chronic diseases, and stressed the necessity to promote healthier lifestyles.

In February, the NHC released two dietary guidelines aimed at addressing obesity in both adults and children. The guidelines offer advice on food choices for adults, children and adolescents, and provide recipes tailored to various dietary habits across different regions of China and throughout the four seasons.

In March, the China Obesity Federation was established in Beijing with support from researchers, scholars and organizations related to obesity prevention and treatment. According to initiators of the federation, which include the National Clinical Research Center for Digestive Diseases, a key objective is to enhance public awareness and understanding of healthy weight loss.

Ji Linong, director of endocrinology at Beijing University People's Hospital, said China's medical institutions have been innovating their obesity diagnosis and treatment methods. He emphasized the importance of a patient-centered weight management model that integrates plans from doctors across relevant disciplines and scientifically employs various management approaches, including lifestyle adjustments, medication and surgical interventions.

According to Chen Wei, chief physician of the clinical nutrition department at the Beijing-based Peking Union Medical College Hospital, one of China's top-tier medical institutions, his department handles approximately 20,000 medical visits annually for weight loss treatment.

Chen and his team have been researching physiological and triggering factors for weight rebound among individuals who have experienced repeated failures in weight loss attempts. He noted that each patient harbors specific factors contributing to obesity, such as emotional eating, low metabolic rate and insulin resistance.

Based on each individual case, Chen and his colleagues provide customized weight loss plans and ensure patients safely lose weight under medical supervision.

He said that there are reasons why some patients struggle to lose weight while some gain more weight in the process, and understanding these factors is crucial for patients to initiate their journey toward health.

Bariatric surgery has become another more commonly applied intervention for obesity in China, especially for severely obese individuals.

China's first bariatric surgery was conducted in 2000, with a total of 500 surgeries performed nationwide by 2012. The number of such surgeries in the country surged to over 10,000 in 2019, surpassing 30,000 in 2022, and in 2023, China recorded at least 35,000 bariatric surgeries.

Zhang Peng, chief physician at the bariatric and metabolic surgery department of Beijing Friendship Hospital affiliated with Capital Medical University, said that he would clearly communicate with patients about whether to undergo bariatric surgeries and the specific type that would be most suitable for them.

"As a doctor, I recommend the appropriate surgical procedure based on my clinical experience and the clinical evidence, but the choice ultimately lies with the patient. Our job is to explain the reasoning clearly," he said.

The department has also set up a follow-up team to help patients learn about proper diet and exercise and inform them of subsequent appointments.

Shen Hongbing, director of the China CDC, said at the China Obesity Science Conference that new technologies have been adopted to monitor and intervene in overweight and obesity, such as personalized nutrition plans based on personal health data, obesity risk assessment models powered by artificial intelligence, and wearable devices for monitoring the health of obese individuals.

Zhang Zhongtao, vice president of Beijing Friendship Hospital, noted that there are several challenges to obesity prevention and control in China, including the lack of standardized treatment methods, shortage of professionally trained medical personnel, and discrimination and stigmatization faced by obese people which discourages them from seeking fair and effective treatment.

He calls for a comprehensive approach involving multiple dimensions, disciplines and the active participation of society as a whole in addressing the issue of obesity.

Zhang Peng suggests launching obesity clinical courses and bariatric nurse training at medical schools and developing unified obesity treatment guidelines. He also considers the possibility of including the diagnosis and treatment of morbid obesity into basic health insurance.

Chen Wei, meanwhile, emphasizes that overweight and obese individuals can sustain long-term weight loss with collaborative efforts from doctors, patients, their families and society as a whole.

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