Obesity putting strain on NHS as weight-related admissions rise

This article: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/apr/04/obesity-putting-strain-on-nhs-as-weight-related-admissions-rise

By  Health editor

Treatment in England for obesity or conditions caused or complicated by obesity rose by 18% last year

The toll taken by obesity on the NHS is increasing, as more people are admitted to hospital with heart conditions, gallstones or needing hip and knee replacements related to their weight.

Data from NHS Digital shows an 18% increase in admissions in the last year either for obesity treatment – usually stomach-reducing surgery – or conditions caused or complicated by obesity, such as heart disease or pregnancy.

There were 617,000 obesity-related admissions in total in England, of which 10,705 were directly for obesity treatment such as bariatric surgery. The most common problem caused or worsened by obesity was wear and tear of the knee joints, followed by the admission of women where the pregnancy had become risky because of weight.

Most of those admitted were women – 72% for obesity treatment, most often the adjustment of a gastric band fitted to reduce the capacity of the stomach, and 66% for other conditions. The numbers of men and women who are obese – a body mass index (BMI) of 30 to 39.9 – in England are almost identical, at 26% and 27% respectively, suggesting women may be more likely to come forward for treatment than men. More men are overweight (a BMI of 25 to 29.9) than women – 40% against 30%.

Bariatric surgery is considered a last resort, but evidence shows it is effective in reducing weight and could save the NHS a great deal of money in the long run. Last year (2015-16), 6,760 operations were carried out, which is 5% higher than the year before, but 23% lower than at the peak in 2011-12. Some hospital trusts carry out far more procedures than others: Telford and Wrekin did the most, at 53 per 100,000 of the population.

Data from the OECD shows that the UK is still one of the most obese countries in the world. It has the sixth highest levels after the US on 38%, Mexico, New Zealand, Hungary and Australia. South Korea and Japan are at the bottom of the OECD table.


Children in the most deprived communities are twice as likely to be obese as those in the most affluent. In the reception year, obesity was highest in Wolverhampton at 14% and lowest in Kingston upon Thames at 5%. In Year 6, it was highest in Barking and Dagenham at 29% and lowest in Rutland at 11%.

The data shows that few people eat the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day – 26% of adults and 16% of children. Two-thirds of men (66%) and 58% of women take enough exercise, while a fifth of men and a quarter of women are classed as inactive.

“These latest figures reinforce the urgency with which we need to tackle obesity in childhood in order to reduce the strain on an individual’s health, as well as health services, later in life,” said Prof Russell Viner, the president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

“We know that obese children are likely to go on to be obese in adulthood, which can result in serious conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The increase in hospital admissions directly attributed to obesity is an indicator that this impact is already being seen.

Labour pointed out that in 2016/17, there were nearly 616,961 admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was a primary or secondary factor – the highest number of admissions on record– and is a 334% increase compared with 2009/10 when there were 142,219 admissions.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “These statistics reveal we still have a long way to go to tackle childhood obesity and ensure every child is given the best start in life,.”

He described the government’s obesity strategy as “watered down”.

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