Mon, Dec-18-23, 01:16
Hospital admissions linked to obesity have doubled in six years in the UK
Revealed: Obesity linked to 3,000 ward admissions a day
Poorer areas of England are worst affected
Hospital admissions linked to obesity have doubled in six years to more than 3,000 people a day, according to NHS figures that highlight the extent of Britain’s weight problem.
Obesity is exacerbating illness or complicating the treatment of people ranging from expectant mothers to patients with arthritis and cancer. There are three times as many admissions linked to obesity as there are to smoking. More than 20 children a day are admitted because of obesity, a figure that has also doubled in recent years.
Ministers have been accused of failing to get a grip on a problem that is damaging society and holding back the economy after the government shelved tough anti-obesity measures.
People in poorer areas are twice as likely to be taken into hospital with obesity as those in the richest areas, in the latest evidence that weight issues are hampering efforts to boost the labour market.
Luton is the area of England with the biggest health toll from obesity, with one hospital admission linked to weight for every 20 residents last year, more than ten times the rate in Bracknell Forest, at the bottom of the table.
Figures published this month showed the cost of obesity to be an estimated £98 billion a year, which included £19 billion of NHS treatment and economic productivity losses of £15 billion.
The latest NHS Digital figures for England show a record 1.2 million ~admissions where obesity was a factor in 2022-23, up from 617,000 in 2016-17. This includes 8,716 occasions when obesity was the primary reason for ~admission, often for bariatric surgery, and hundreds of thousands more when obesity was a secondary diagnosis ~either contributing to a stay in hospital or complicating treatment.
Pregnant women are the most likely to have obesity as a complicating problem, with 147,143 maternity admissions where obesity was a problem for either mother or child. Arthritis, gallstones, breast cancer, heart disease and general pain were all involved in more than 10,000 annual admissions each.
Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat deputy leader, said: “Ministers have squandered numerous opportunities to make the UK a healthier place to live, instead choosing to kick the can down the road time and again. All this is having a huge impact on people’s wellbeing, not to mention on our NHS and economy. Investing in improving public health would not only reduce pressure on the NHS, it would help get more people back to work and boost our economy.”
While older people are more likely to require hospital treatment, the figures include 8,261 admissions among under-16s, up from 4,062 in 2016-17. In the most deprived ten areas there were 3,393 admissions per 100,000 people for obesity, more than twice the 1,430 in the richest tenth.
Luton had 4,880 per 100,000, with Gloucestershire, Southampton, Salford, Rotherham, Bradford and much of east London all having rates above 4,000. Bracknell Forest in Berkshire had an admission rate of 420 per 100,000, while Windsor, Wokingham, Slough, Oxfordshire, Reading and Brighton all had rates below 1,000.
Luton is among the country’s more deprived and most diverse boroughs and, in recognition of its high obesity rate, recently announced a ban on ~advertising unhealthy food on council-owned billboards and other property. The rise in obesity-related ~admissions is likely to represent, at least in part, growing medical awareness of the range of conditions excess weight can cause. Local variations in recording obesity will also affect how areas rank.
Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, has said she wanted to focus on healthy-living advice and was said to be sceptical of what she has described as “nanny-statish” measures, in comments that have dismayed health ~campaigners.
Cooper urged ministers to revive plans for a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising and a ban on buy-one-get-one-free deals on unhealthy food, both of which have been kicked into the long grass, as well as to give councils more cash for public health initiatives.
Weight-loss surgery has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, with 5,099 admissions last year, compared with more than 6,000 five years ago, which some have attributed to pressures on the NHS.
This has meant admissions where the main reason is obesity have yet to return to levels of more than 10,000 seen before Covid-19. However, 638 children under 16 were admitted primarily for obesity, almost as many as before the pandemic.
A government spokesman pointed to compulsory calorie labelling and healthy food vouchers for poorer households, saying: “We are taking strong action to encourage healthier food choices and to tackle obes~ity across all socio-economic groups and in deprived areas, recognising that it is the second biggest cause of cancer.”
The Times view on Britain’s growing waistlines: Obesity Epidemic
More and more Britons, especially the young and poor, are overweight. The government must be more proactive in saving the many lives lost to obesity
More than 3,000 people a day are admitted to hospital in England with conditions linked to obesity — double the figure six years ago. This awful statistic underlines the huge toll that obesity is taking on the nation’s health. Even more shocking are recent figures showing that more than 20 children a day are hospitalised because of obesity, and that ill health caused by being overweight is costing the country £98 billion a year. The NHS spends £19 billion a year treating those who are too fat, and the associated lost productivity costs the ~economy £15 billion a year.
For several years there have been warnings that Britons are eating too much of the wrong kinds of food. Some 28 per cent of the population is now obese, one of the highest rates in Europe. The condition is especially harmful to pregnant women and those suffering from arthritis, cancer and diabetes. According to NHS figures, obesity now leads to three times as many hospital admissions as smoking — a sharp reminder that although the drop in smoking rates, especially among young people, has been impressive, this recent danger to people’s health has received far less publicity and is one that especially affects the young.
Public concern has been growing, but there has been a shamefully slow response from the government, the food industry and the general public. Obesity not only damages the nation’s health, it is also a political issue, because it exacerbates inequality. The NHS figures clearly demonstrate that obesity particularly affects those on lower incomes, because ultra-processed “junk” food — proven to be a prime cause of obesity — is much cheaper than fruit, vegetables and the ingredients that make for a healthy diet. Those areas where obesity is most prevalent are overwhelmingly poorer towns and communities, with Luton coming top of the list and east London and northern cities also having among the worst results. By contrast, more prosperous areas such as Bracknell Forest, Windsor and Maidenhead and Wokingham have far fewer hospital admissions associated with obesity.In the most deprived ten areas there were 3,393 admissions per 100,000 people, more than twice the figure of 1,430 in the richest tenth.
Since 1992 there have been sporadic attempts to legislate to reduce the most obvious causes. A levy on soft drinks was introduced in 2018 to push manufacturers to add less sugar to their products. Shops have been banned from offering get-one-free deals on unhealthy foods, and are urged not to display sugar, fattening foods and snacks in prominent positions. Luckily, most shops no longer place snacks, sweets and comfort food right next to checkouts.
So far the government has resisted putting a ~direct tax on sugar. In itself, such a tax would not be especially effective and would seem to be more of a token move. But the government has also, regrettably, retreated from most of the proactive anti-obesity measures mooted recently. Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, says she wants to focus instead on promoting healthy living, and is said to be sceptical of “nanny-state” legislation. If so, there is still plenty to do. Plans, now shelved, to revive a 9pm television watershed for junk food advertising should be brought back. There should be a massive public campaign, equivalent to the hard-hitting anti-smoking measures, to stop children and their parents grazing on snacks. And councils should be given money to fund local ~initiatives. Perhaps farmers could be subsidised for growing vegetables and healthy foods that are less expensive.
Obesity is a global issue, largely affecting richer nations. The main culprits are the food industry, which profits hugely from processed and fast food. The World Health Organisation says that at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of obesity. Fewer of those should be in Britain.