Weight Watchers may be available for NHS patients

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Overweight people may soon get slimming club membership on the NHS. Weight Watchers, one of the country's biggest slimming organisations, is drawing up plans with GPs and NHS trusts for patients to be referred to its weekly meetings.

Doctors and dieticians are backing the scheme, after hearing that the cost of a month's membership of a slimming club was far cheaper than the price of obesity drugs or surgery.

The House of Commons' health select committee, which is due to report on Britain's obesity epidemic next year, is considering whether to recommend that slimming clubs could be paid for by the NHS.

Paula Hunt, a nutritionist and dietician for Weight Watchers, told the select committee yesterday that the company was talking to "several" primary care trusts and GPs about such a scheme.

She said: "A lot of it is a question of time and motivation. There are huge time constraints within the NHS; doctors have 10 minutes to talk to their patients about everything, not just their weight.

"We can offer lifelong support and the motivation for people to lose the weight. We are very keen to get involved in partnerships with the NHS."

The Health Development Agency has also suggested that the NHS uses the experience of the multimillion pound commercial slimming sector to help tackle rising rates of obesity.

Weight Watchers is also one of the few slimming programmes which has been subjected to scientific studies. Research has shown that the slimming club regime, which involves allowing people "food points" rather than making them count calories, is effective and works better than counselling from doctors and self-help diets. Half of all people in Britain are now considered overweight and one in five are obese. The proportion of people who are considered too fat has doubled in the past decade.

Amanda Avery, a community dietician with the Greater Derby Primary Care Trust, conducted a study where 100 obese people at GPs' surgeries were given vouchers for Slimming World. After six months, the patients had reduced their weight by 10.7 per cent. Experts are agreed that a 10 per cent weight loss is the standard target for people on diets, as it can be easily maintained.

Ms Avery, who is giving evidence to the select committee, said that a 12-week course at Slimming World cost £55, while a similar course of an anti-obesity drug would have cost £126 on the NHS. She told the committee: "One of the problems with the NHS is that obese people can be offered help or a referral to a clinic, but then that help is withdrawn because of a lack of money and resources. The slimming clubs don't have that problem because they have the money and the infrastructure."

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