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GPs help obesity battle says report

By Emma Wilkinson

Having more GPs in an area helps residents tackle obesity, research suggests.

A team at the National Primary Care Research and Development Centre found a 10% increase in GP supply is associated with an average reduction of around 1kg/m2 in body mass index.

Although it may at first seem obvious that leafy suburbs, with lower levels of obesity may attract a higher number of GPs, the researchers took these factors into account.

They could not, however, say how a higher number of GPs manage to produce lower rates of obesity.

But Dr Stephen Morris, study leader and a reader in health economics speculated there could be a number of factors at work, including more time to spare with obese patients, larger primary care teams, and wider availability of a range of services to improve weight loss.

Although there is conflicting evidence on the impact of primary care on obesity the NHS Alliance and NICE both suggest areas where primary care can be "instrumental" in tackling the problem, he pointed out.

"Our study provides some support for the view that improved primary care provision in the form of reduced list size per GP can lead to a reduction in BMI," he added.

"There are schemes using primary care as the vehicle to target obesity and our study would fit into that."

He added that it would now be useful to work out how cost-effective it would be to increase the number of GPs as a way of reducing obesity.

And a separate study due to be published shortly found the same effect of number of GPs on overall health – once again taking into account factors which might dictate where GPs choose to practise.

Dr Colin Waine, an ex-GP and chair of the National Obesity Forum said the results would fit in with the view that where you have more GPs consultation times are longer and as a result you get more effective management of patients.

"Obese patients require high levels of support and this would be much easier to achieve if people had long consultation times in which they could address the causes of obesity."

He added it was a vicious circle as the most deprived areas were likely to be both under-doctored and have high rates of obesity.

The research is published in the Journal of Health Economics (15th March 2008).

Obesity: number of GPs helps Obesity: number of GPs helps

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