Dieticians reject Weight Watchers Medicare proposal

Weight loss
Picture: Lucy Swinstead 

DIETICIANS have rejected a Weight Watchers proposal to have weight loss programs covered by Medicare. 

The international weight loss giant says it would cost just $202 per person to fund a 13-week program that could help 200,000 Australians shed 10-15 kilos.

Managing director in Australia Joseph Saad says the program would cost around $39 million and significantly cut the $1.3 billion a year the nation currently spends on direct medical and

pharmaceutical costs for the obese.
It would cover those most at risk who had a body mass index over 25 and a chronic health

"We believe the government does need to rethink the strategy of combating obesity because what has happened in the past has not worked," he said.

However, Sydney dietician Genevieve Michael told News Ltd the plan was ridiculous, expensive and unnecessary because the government already funds five visits to a dietician under the Enhanced Primary Care scheme.

She said a BMI of 25 was within normal range and that if Weight Watchers was really committed to helping the obese, they would be targeting people with a BMI of 30 or above.

Fellow dietician Dr Naras Lapsys shared similar concerns and said Medicare should instead list obesity as a health problem to allow more people access to subsidised weight loss

"The EPC does not cover being overweight or obesity at all," he said. "You have to have a health condition and it has to be linked to something like heart disease or type two

A national obesity conference was this week told one in three of the lowest income Australians were obese and they were least likely to be able to afford any professional help for their problem.

Weight Watchers International Chief Scientific Officer, Karen Miller-Kovach told News Limited a new study published in the International Journal of Obesity had found it was cheaper to achieve weight loss using commercial weight reduction programs than standard care involving a doctor.

The study also shows those taking part in commercial weight loss programs achieved more than twice the weight loss of those using standard care.

Dr Steve Hamilton, president of the Australian Medical Association, said Weight Watchers needed to provide more evidence for why it should be considered for a Medicare subsidy.
"At the moment Medicare is not set up for that sort of thing," he said. "The study Weight Watchers has done takes a general look at the population, so there's a lot more work that needs to be done.

"I'm not saying I don't like the program, but we need a multi factor solution where we think about schools, healthy diet at school, exercise, food labelling - there are a whole lot of things we need to think about."

Over the last three decades in Australia the prevalence of overweight and obesity has
increased more than three-fold.

One in four Australians are now obese and forty per cent are overweight.