Rates of obesity are rising, with around 1 billion people living with obesity globally and estimates that 1 in 4 of us will be living with obesity by 2035.
Living with severe obesity can put people at greater risk of developing health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer with a significant impact on our quality of life. During the Covid-19 pandemic researchers learned that carrying excess weight increased the risks of dying from the disease, making the need to develop more effective treatments for people with severe obesity a research priority.
In 2020 a research team from PenARC, the University of Exeter, the University of Plymouth and the University of Liverpool was awarded nearly £2.5 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to investigate whether an intensive group-based behavioural programme called PROGROUP (ImPROving GROUP treatment for people with severe obesity) was more effective than usual care for people with severe obesity, and if it can save money.
Dr Dawn Swancutt who manages the study, said: “Obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges facing us. PROGROUP sets out to establish a strong sense of connectedness between people, helping to support weight loss and improved wellbeing. It’s a really important programme.”
“We’ve made excellent progress on developing a better understanding of the health and wellbeing needs of this important and unique patient group.”
Dr Mark Tarrant
Now two years into the programme the PROGROUP research team are beginning to build a picture of the treatments that people living with obesity find the most helpful.
Dr Mark Tarrant, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who co-leads the study, said: “Treatment for severe obesity varies greatly across the country. How effective NHS services are is unclear. We know that obesity is linked to a wide range of health problems, yet there’s very little consistency in how people are treated, or evidence about what’s effective. We’ve made excellent progress on developing a better understanding of the health and wellbeing needs of this important and unique patient group and have completed an initial test of the PROGROUP intervention, working with patients and NHS weight management services in several UK locations. This work has provided us with lots of really valuable learning that we are now taking forward into the next phase of the project. The aim is to develop a gold standard for effective group-based care that can be rolled out across the country.”
This year’s World Obesity Day, an international awareness day convened by the World Obesity Federation, is on March 4th. Called ‘Changing Perspectives: Let’s Talk About Obesity’, this year’s focus is on harnessing the power of conversation and stories to correct misconceptions around obesity and helping to shift norms and transform health outcomes.
‘People with obesity are constantly shamed and blamed because many – including doctors, policymakers, and others – do not fully understand the root causes of obesity.’
The World Health Organisation notes that, ‘People with obesity are constantly shamed and blamed because many – including doctors, policymakers, and others – do not fully understand the root causes of obesity, which are often a complex mixture of dietary, lifestyle, genetic, psychological, sociocultural, economic and environmental factors. It is time we break the cycle of shame and blame and re-evaluate our approach for addressing this complex global public health problem.’
Learn more about the PROGROUP study.
Read this blog from Mia Alexander about taking part in research on the PROGROUP study.
Want to take part in research?
Researchers are looking for people living in Cornwall or the Isles of Scilly to take part in a survey to help them understand what sort of help people would find most useful. You can complete the survey until March 9th.