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For the last 15 years, Plymouth, England has held a symposium on obesity. It’s estimated that more than half the city’s adults are overweight or obese. The rest of Britain is not fairing much better. But what’s happening in the U.K. can also be seen the U.S. and many Western countries and a growing number of developing nations. One obesity expert said it’s a long term problem that is very difficult to solve


Professor Jonathan Pinkney said, “No one health issue has the most impact on human health, or engenders more debate about how to tackle it, than obesity.” Pinkney - a professor of Endocrinology and Diabetes – took part in the annual Plymouth Symposium on Obesity, Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome on May 21st.

He said obesity is a complex issue that involves more than calorie intake.

“I personally feel that this is such a wide field. There are so many issues. There’s politics. There’s biology. There’s everything you can imagine. There’s the food industry. And I think that sometimes we’re all a bit guilty of just maybe concentrating on one of those areas. And you can go to a conference anywhere in the world where they spend days just talking about bariatric surgery or fizzy drinks. So, I think it’s right to talk about everything under one umbrella.”

Bariatric surgery restricts how much food a person can eat, sharply reducing caloric intake.

The professor gave his definition of obesity as “when body size becomes so huge that it impairs people’s day to day function and quality of life and well-being and personal relationships. Yeah, that’s kind of devastating. That tends to occur at a higher level of body weight.”

However, Pinkney said those not considered technically obese are also at high risk for poor health.

“That’s the more important point for the health of the population. You know, all the diabetes and heart attacks and cancers and things. I mean that’s really caused by lower levels of weight gain. As you can see, it’s just the average weight of the population drifting up because we’re just sort of eating the wrong things and not really sufficiently active,” he said.

The Plymouth symposium showed that much is known about the biology of the brain and appetite control. But Pinkney said, as one speaker pointed out, knowledge is not enough.

“That is completely overridden by things going on around us in the environment: food advertising – food Industry -- the way that it’s all marketed to everybody, including children. And I think the simple fact of the matter is, you know, our bodies are very smart and beautifully built. But it’s just that the biological systems tha