Obesity 'could bankrupt the NHS'

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Obesity 'could bankrupt the NHS'

The rising levels of obesity could bankrupt the NHS if left unchecked, a British Medical Journal report warns.

Experts, including government A&E tsar George Alberti and Glasgow University professor Naveed Sattar, said obesity treatment took up 9% of the NHS budget.

But they warned this would rise as the number of obese adults rose from one in five to one in three by 2010.

They said action was needed by all of society and even recommended a helpline for people who bought larger clothes.

The number should be promoted on the labels of all clothes sold with a waist of more than 40in (102cm) for men, 37in (94cm) for boys, 35in (88cm) for women, and 31in (80cm) for girls. Read more…..

Professor Sattar, an expert in metabolic medicine, said research had linked obesity to a range of diseases and disorders, including heart disease, cancer, depression, back pain, diabetes and skin problems.

He said: "The problem of rising prevalence in obesity may get much worse - rates could climb still further, bankrupting the health system and leading soon to reductions in life expectancy.

"So we need to think out of the box, nothing that has been looked at so far seem to have worked."

He said while individuals "clearly have some responsibility for their health", the rest of society should also play more of a role.

He said the food industry should own up to the role they play through advertising and schools should be doing more to promote good diets and lifestyles.

He also called for obesity to become a core part of medical training and for public health consequences to be considered "for all decisions made in public life".

Some of the other measures recommended include:

Health checks, including waist and weight measurements, for all school leavers

Stricter planning regulations to only allow new housing complexes if they have sports facilities and green parks nearby.

  • Fund obesity surgery for people with a body mass index of over 40
  • Tax processed food high in sugar and salt
  • Only allow new urban roads if they have cycle lanes



The government published a Public Health White Paper two years ago which promised to put the issue at the top of the agenda.

This came after a report by former NatWest chief Derek Wanless claimed unless the nation became healthier, spending on the NHS would increase by £30bn over the following 20 years.

Professor Anthony Barnett, head of the diabetes and obesity research group at the University of Birmingham, said the dire prediction could well come true.

"It is heading in that direction”. The World Health Organization recently suggested 70% of deaths will be due to obesity related illnesses in the future.

"In the UK, we have one of the worst problems and that is and will continue to put a terrific strain on the health service."

And Steve Webb, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: "This staggering analysis must be a wake-up call for the government, which has failed to get a grip on key public health challenges such as obesity.

"At a time when an emphasis on prevention is needed more than ever, the NHS is slashing public health spending simply to make ends meet."

But Janice Bhend, a former editor of Yes magazine, which targets larger women, said the idea of a clothes phone line was a "ghastly idea".

"We need to come at it from a different angle but I don't think the fat police need to start telling us to phone a helpline."

She added it was enough to make people depressed.