The National Obesity Forum: Melbourne 2017

The National Obesity Forum: Melbourne

Dr Marlene Tham at the National Obesity Forum

I was honoured to be part of the team speaking at the National Obesity Forum held at th Melbourne Museum on Wednesday 11th May 2017 and to be in the company of three Obesity and Weight Loss experts: Professor John Dixon, Dr Georgia Rigas and Dr Gary Kilov. The four of us spoke to a crowd of 150 Medical Practitioners and the night was broadcasted as a webinar to over 1600 doctors all over Australia. The topics were fascinating.

Obesity: Lifestyle Problem or Metabolic Disease

Obesity Australia
World Obesity Levels

Dr Georgia Rigas spoke about this very debatable topic about whether obesity was a lifestyle problem or metabolic disease. As a Bariatric practitioner at Sydney’s St George Private Hospital and chair of the RACGP Obesity Management Network, she gave a wonderful talk about the radically changing scientific understanding of obesity. Often people who are overweight are judged as being the product of an unhealthy lifestyle, however, there is now good evidence that it should be tackled as a chronic disease. Just like other chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, Dr Rigas stressed the importance of not just addressing lifestyle strategies, but the benefit of using a combination of behavioural (such as CBT) and pharmacological interventions to achieve success.

Pre-Diabetes, type 2 Diabetes, Weight Management and Obesity

Rates of diabetes in Australia
Diabetes in Australia

We had an informative and evidence based talk by Dr Gary Kilov who is the founding member of the RACGP Diabetes Specific Interest Group and co-founder of the Primary Care Diabetes Society of Australia (PCDSA). Dr Kilov emphasised the benefits of even modest weight loss which can be achieved through lifestyle modification of diabetes. He also discussed a number of anti-diabetic medications that can also aid with weight loss that your GP can prescribe. He highlighted the fact that we  are currently in an diabetic epidemic with 280 Australians developing diabetes every day which is the same as 1 person every 5 minutes. This is around 8% of Australian population diagnosed with diabetes (1.7 million). More worrying is more than 15% of the populaton are said to have  pre-diabetes and 2/3 will go on to develop diabetes.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver and Obesity

The progression of Non-Alcoholic Liver Disease

Professor John Dixon is regarded as one the world’s top 10 obesity researchers and it was an honour to have the Head of Clinical Obesity Research at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute speak that night.  Professor Dixon spoke about the management of a very important and often under addressed diagnosis of non alcoholic fatty liver disease. This occurs in overweight people when fat is deposited in the liver and is  unrelated to alcohol. It is associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Most people have can have a good outcome if caught early before it progresses to cirrhosis which unfortunately could lead to early death. In Australia, the incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is as high as 30%.

Psychotropics, Weight Gain and Obesity

obesity and mental health
Mental Hill statistics provided by NSW Mental Health


I was the 1st speaker of the night and spoke about psychotropic weight gain and how it is a national health priority. People with mental illness can have live up to 20 years less than the average population.  Unfortunately medicines used in mental illness can cause increased hunger and appetite which leads to weight gain, and metabolic diseases such as diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver. I cannot emphasis the importance not just of reviewing medications with treating doctors but also addressing lifestyle changes and psychological and behavioural therapies.

Are these issues affecting you?

If some of these medical issues are affecting you or you require more information, your GP is the best person to be able to investigate, discuss and start treatment. Metabolic diseases such as diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and weight gain related to mental health can be managed and should not be ignored.  The aim of the National Obesity Forum was to discuss these complex issues and it was an honour to be part of it.

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