New research published in Family Practice has added to the growing body (no pun intended) of evidence demonstrating the link between obesity and health complications. In the study, entitled Impact of body mass index on prevalence of multimorbidity in primary care: cohort study, King's College London's Helen Booth and colleagues examined the link between severity of obesity and multimorbidity, defined as the presence of two or more of the following conditions: coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disorders, back pain, osteoarthritis, other joint problems and depression. Using data from more than 200,000 patients in the United Kingdom's Clinical Practice Research Datalink, they found that the prevalence of multimorbidity increased with BMI category in men and women. The prevalence of multimorbidity in category I obese patients (BMI 30.0/ 34.9 kg/m2) was almost 50 percent higher than normal weight (18.524.9 kg/m2) and nearly double for category III obese patients (BMI >40.0 kg/m2).

The study results highlight the need to look at the bigger picture for obesity and the need for more effective treatments. As well as the greater risk to individual's health posed by excess weight, such complications place additional burden on already stressed healthcare system. Greater education efforts focusing on improving dietary habits and increasing exercise will help some, but there will be a significant proportion of obese patients who will require interventions to assist with weight control. Bariatric surgery is the most effective option available, but it is expensive and comes with all the associated risks of surgery, plus other specific risks, such as micronutrient deficiencies. For the patients that do not respond to diet and exercise, and those who do not qualify for, do not want to undergo or cannot afford surgery, pharmacological treatments may be the answer. However, there are limited pharmaceutical options currently, leaving a great unmet need and a major opportunity for drug developers.

Although recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the prevalence of obesity may be plateauing in that country, I would argue that we are years from feeling the full impact of the obesity epidemic in the developed nations, and the developing nations will very soon feel a similar impact. More education and more interventions are needed.

Tim Blackstock, M.B., Ch.B., is a business insights analyst with the Cardiovascular, Metabolic and Renal Disorders team at Decision Resources.

In-depth analysis of the obesity area, with accompanying epidemiology driven sales forecast models, is presented in Decision Resources Obesity Pharmacor. The 2013 edition is due to be published in the near future.

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