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"Obesity is the biggest public health problem in the Western world"

Francisco Tinahones.
Francisco Tinahones. / SUR
  • This specialist recommends taking exercise even if it doesn't result in weight loss, and a return to the traditional Mediterranean diet

Obesity is a type of plague which has been spreading inexorably through Western countries to such an extent that it has now become the most important public health problem, says the president of the Spanish society for the study of obesity (SEEDO), Francisco Tinahones, who is also the director of the endocrinology and nutrition clinical management unit at the Clínico Universitario hospital in Malaga. He says obesity is an illness and, as such, it needs to be treated.

Dr Tinahones describes it as a silent epidemic which "has become a problem of a terrible magnitude". Between 20 and 25 per cent of adults in Andalucía are obese, and between 15 and 20 per cent of children. These figures are worrying and experts insist that urgent measures are needed to stop them increasing.

Excess weight can cause illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular problems, sleep apnea and joint problems, among others which negatively affect people's lives.

Excessive weight can be controlled and doctors know how to prevent it, but it means a change to a less sedentary lifestyle and a diet which does not include fast food or junk food.

Dr Tinahones stresses the importance of taking physical exercise, even if it doesn't result in weight loss, because it improves complications which derive from obesity and reduces the risk of suffering from diabetes.

When it comes to food, this expert recommends returning to the origins of the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in pulses and fresh fruit and vegetables. He also says people should reduce their consumption of meat products and avoid processed foods. "We need to educate people about their tastes in food from childhood," he insists.

Another aspect which favours obesity is a lack of sleep, especially for children. The children who do not get the sleep they need, (at least eight hours a day), have a greater propensity for obesity because of an alteration in their sleep rhythms.

People who are obese often face problems with self-esteem as well and need psychological help to overcome that problem and not become depressed. "More than half of obese people consider their health to be bad," says Dr Tinahones.

He also hopes that in the near future the Andalusian parliament will approve a law (which is already very advanced) to combat obesity. Among other features, it would ban vending machines with commercial bakery products and sugary drinks from schools.

"This law is very important, but we'll have to see how it develops," he says.