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GP obesity role effective

By Nerys Hairon

GPs are effective at controlling levels of obesity and need to be funded to take on a more active weight management role, a new evaluation concludes.

The Centre for Health Economics study found patients in areas with a good supply of GPs had significantly lower BMIs than those where GPs were spread more thinly.

A 10 per cent rise in GP numbers was associated with a reduction in average BMI of about 4 per cent ­ or 1kg/m2 ­ even after controlling for the possibility GPs were attracted to work in 'nicer' areas.

Study leader Dr Steve Morris, senior lecturer in health economics at Imperial College London, said investing in primary care to reduce list sizes 'can lead to a reduction in BMI'. He added: 'Our study is supporting the view that you need a better-funded, more appropriately resourced primary care sector for the management of obesity.'

The National Obesity Forum said it would consider using the new data to push for a greater focus on obesity in the next review of the QOF.

Dr David Haslam, clinical

director of the forum and a GP in Watton-at-Stone in Hertfordshire, said the results were fascinating. 'We would consider using it as evidence in the next QOF review, although there are lots of unanswered questions. We don't need telling what to do ­ we need the money to empower us to do it,' he said.

Dr Gill Jenkins, a GP in Bristol with an interest in obesity, said: 'One might assume that if there are more GPs around and you have got more time then it allows you to do the finer points of a consultation, which should include weight management discussion.'

But other GPs expressed scepticism at the findings.

Dr Colin Guthrie, a GP in Glasgow, said: 'If you put more medical help in it might in the short-term reduce someone's BMI, but in the long-term people's weight always goes back up again unless the environment changes. In general practice there is nothing you can do about obesity.'

The research examined data on 6,759 people from the Health Survey for England in 2000 and from the GMS database at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre.

It came as new prescribing figures showed GP prescribing of anti-obesity drugs had leapt by 20 per cent in the last year.

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