Public hospitals may not be adequately resourced to treat the one million adults who currently live with clinically severe obesity in Australia.

A new study to be published in Clinical Obesity indicates that:

  • Only a small fraction of Australians who are eligible to access specialist healthcare services for obesity would have access to such services in Australian public hospitals
  • The services for clinically obese patients vary substantially between hospitals
  • The small number of specialist obesity services that are available, are under-resourced and only located in a few major cities
  • Patient access to services and treatments is limited by strict entry criteria, prolonged wait times, geographical location, as well as out-of-pocket costs

The paper calls for significant improvements in:

  • Staff and physical infrastructure resources
  • Access to services, weight loss medications and surgery
  • Research funding for improving services

Reearcher Dr Evan Atlantis from Western Sydney University says patients with severe obesity often have multiple health conditions, and consequently, complex health needs that cannot be met within the constraints of most primary care settings.

“The results of this study indicate that thousands of people, who may benefit from specialist health care, are currently not having their needs addressed by the public health system,” says Dr Atlantis.

“The experts that responded to this study reached a consensus on the need for significant improvements in obesity medicine – this includes education and training for staff; improved physical infrastructure and access to services; and more targeted research funding.”

Professor John Dixon from the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute says the vast majority of Australians with clinically severe obesity cannot access the specialist evidence-based treatments needed.

“Despite the one million adults with clinically severe obesity in Australia, very limited services are available and there is substantial variability in the structure, resourcing and capacity of current specialist obesity services in public hospitals,” Professor Dixon says.

“The current national approach to assessing and managing clinically severe obesity would surely be unacceptable if it were applied to other complex chronic health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.”