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Multi-faceted action and a comprehensive nationwide strategy

Obesity is a chronic disease that requires continuous interdisciplinary research to find and develop effective new tools for prevention and treatment. NLS asked the Finnish Association for the Study of Obesity (FASO) about the Nordic region’s challenges and efforts within obesity.

How would you describe the impact that drugs like semaglutide have had on obesity treatment and on the general view of obesity?

“Efficient anti-obesity medications have changed the world of obesity management. Finally we can aim at a weight loss of some 15-20%. These drugs help to highlight the biological background of obesity. They also seem to provide an efficient means of improving cardiovascular health among people living with obesity and cardiovascular diseases, and also help in long-term weight management.”

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A recent study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare showed that there is a growing problem of obesity in Finland. The Body Mass Index (BMI) of approximately 1.2 million adults in Finland exceeds the obesity threshold, the study found. Why do you think that is, and how are you and other organizations, researchers, companies, and authorities in Finland working to stop this growth?

“Considering that obesity is a chronic disease driven by biological mechanisms beyond individual control, and further exacerbated by factors in modern society, addressing this issue requires multi-faceted action and a comprehensive nationwide strategy. Researchers are trying to convey the message that rising obesity problems have an impact at both the individual and society level, and hopefully this message will make its way into policymaking.”

By incorporating the patient perspective more prominently in our meetings and events, FASO aims to enhance collaboration between researchers and patients, with the goal of influencing policymaking.”

“After NOM24 [the 2024 Nordic Obesity Meeting], FASO recognized the importance of amplifying the voices of individuals living with obesity and integrating their perspectives more into societal discussions and our society’s activities. Consequently, we have taken steps to improve patient representation by inviting individuals who have lived with obesity to join the board. By incorporating the patient perspective more prominently in our meetings and events, FASO aims to enhance collaboration between researchers and patients, with the goal of influencing policymaking. This effort is particularly crucial as Lile ry, an organization of people who have had bariatric surgery, has encountered challenges in effectively communicating its message to the government in Finland, without the involvement of researchers and healthcare professionals.”

What would be the effects on Finnish society if obesity were not prevented or treated?

“Studies have been conducted into the impact of obesity on quality of life, work capacity, and societal well-being among Finnish adults. A very recent study reveals a predictable association between obesity and various physical and psychological aspects of quality of life, even when considering associated obesity-related comorbidities. Moreover, individuals with obesity tend to report diminished perceived physical and psychological work capacity, along with a higher frequency of self-reported sick-leave days compared to individuals with a normal BMI.”

“Simultaneously, the rising prevalence of obesity, together with declining levels of fitness poses significant challenges to our society. In terms of workforce dynamics, there is a foreseeable decrease in individuals’ ability to engage in physically demanding jobs, potentially leading to premature retirement of employees. In addition, obesity correlates with an increased risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and musculoskeletal disorders. The resulting increase in healthcare resource utilization and medication use, primarily driven by these metabolic comorbidities, is a further burden on the economy.”

These underscore the urgency for comprehensive strategies to address obesity and declining fitness levels so as to mitigate their impacts on individuals and society as a whole.”

“These health and economic implications are expected to compound the already substantial strain on society, especially with the rapidly expanding population of aging citizens approaching retirement age. According to estimations of the UKK Institute, a center for health promotion research, the total annual costs arising from high sedentary behavior and low physical activity are approximately EUR 4.7 billion. These underscore the urgency for comprehensive strategies to address obesity and declining fitness levels so as to mitigate their impacts on individuals and society as a whole.”

FASO recently organized NOM24, any take-aways from this meeting that you would like to share?

“Patient perspectives should be heard in all circumstances to increase the general knowledge, decrease the stigma, and develop better practices/tools for treatment. Furthermore, we need and want to support research training within this field although our resources are limited. They are our hope for the future. Finally, cooperation between patients, healthcare providers, researchers, and policymakers is crucial.”

How can the Nordic countries benefit from collaborating more within obesity R&D and preventive measures?

Speaking with the same voice under the umbrella organization EASO allows sharing and distribution of the Nordic knowhow more widely to benefit other European countries.”

“The Nordic countries share various similarities which eases collaboration, dissemination of research findings, and sharing of expertise. Speaking with the same voice under the umbrella organization EASO allows sharing and distribution of the Nordic knowhow more widely to benefit other European countries.”

 

NOM24 organizers. Back: Eija Pirinen and André Heikius. Front: Kirsi Pietiläinen, Emilia Huvinen, Heli Viljakainen and Bram Berntzen.

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