Benefit cut for obese “unethical” says Lancet

20 Mar 2015

Proposals by the current UK government to cut benefits from obese people who refuse treatment is unethical and won’t save money, editors of the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal say.

Writing in an editorial titled “Is coercion an option?” the editors argue that while many obese people might welcome the opportunity to take part in an intervention that helps them to lose weight, any mandated program should have a strong evidence base for success.

“Unfortunately, diet and lifestyle interventions have restricted, often transient, benefits due to biological adaptations, that act to sustain high bodyweight,” they write.

“It is therefore important to ask whether requiring people to participate in weight-loss programmes, despite a high likelihood of failure, is acceptable from the point of view of an individual, provider, or society.”

The only treatment for obesity that has been proven to be successful for substantial long-term weight loss and improved quality of life in a high proportion of people is bariatric surgery, the authors point out.

“Requiring people to undergo a major surgical procedure as a condition of receiving benefits seems far from ethical.” 

The number of people claiming sickness benefits with obesity as the primary reason for the claim is actually very small (only 1780 people as of May, 2014) when considered in the context of the roughly 2·5 million people claiming these benefits in total, they add.

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