‘Fat map’ dismissed by experts

A NEW “fat map” of the UK, which places Shetland at the top of the obesity charts, has come under fire this week.

The map, created by Dr Foster Research, suggests the problem may be getting worse when compared with a similar map published two years ago.

It shows that more than one in 10 patients registered with GPs in some parts of the country are obese. Shetland is said to have the highest proportion, with 15.5 per cent of patients described as obese, closely followed by parts of Wales.

Although different methodology was used, researchers said the 2008 map was now revealing pockets of obesity in previously unexpected areas. The data was gathered from medical practices but it would appear the figures for Shetland were based on only one of the eight practices in the isles.

The second highest figure in Scotland is in Orkney where 9.5 per cent of people were found to be overweight, followed closely by the Western Isles with 9.37 per cent.

But NHS Shetland health improvement manager Elizabeth Robinson dismissed any notion that Shetland was the most obese area of the UK and said that although the figures published in the report were accurate, it appeared that they were based on a single practice of 1,000 people – which she said is particularly vigilant at ensuring that doctors see the vast majority of its registered patients.

Ms Robinson said that in fairness to the authors of the report, the research includes disclaimers pointing out that there “may be variations in the accuracy and completeness of practice records”, does not include information on the age of patients and does not take into account local circumstances, nuances which have been overlooked by several national media outlets. Yesterday’s Daily Telegraph described Shetland as the “fattest” place in the UK, while Glasgow’s Daily Record had the isles as “topping the tubby table”.

NHS Shetland director of public health Sarah Taylor said the accepted prevalence of obesity is 23 per cent for men and 25 per cent for women, which meant the 15.9 per cent figure was significantly less than the UK average.

“We know that small rural practices are good at identifying health problems and have good coverage of patients, so this probably represents under-reporting in other areas,” said Dr Taylor. “It may be that in Shetland GP practices are doing work on obesity and encouraging people to come forward for help, so our practices identify more people with obesity than other areas.”

Dr Taylor added that the report talks about the range of ways in which obesity can be tackled and said that if the report helped to highlight the problems of obesity and encouraged people to tackle their weight problems, it would be “very helpful”.

The map was dismissed by MSP Tavish Scott, who described the findings as “ridiculous”.

He said: “Shetlanders are very active. We have great leisure facilities and lots of people use them all the time. I am highly sceptical about this survey. It’s clearly important to track obesity and to offer help to those who are overweight, but it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Shetland is an obesity hotspot.”


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