The NHS saw an 18 per cent spike in the number of patients admitted to NHS hospitals for obesity and its related conditions, in just one year, official data shows.
The growing toll of weight-related problems on the health service in England and Wales was laid bare in new data published by NHS Digital, which showed there were 617,000 obesity related admissions in 2016-17.
Two-thirds of the admissions were women, and the same report reveals that 42 per cent of women had a BMI that placed them in a high or very high health risk group, compared to 35 per cent of men.
In 2015 there were 524,725 obesity related admissions, though some of the increase has been fuelled by changes in the reporting of obesity as the health service tries to understand its full cost.
The figures come after the head of the NHS in England, Simon Stevens, said “obesity is the new smoking”, with diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease placing a disproportionate burden on stretched funds.
There were 10,705 cases where obesity was recorded as the primary diagnosis and reason for admission – an increase of eight per cent on 2015-16 – and women accounted for nearly three-quarters of these.
More than half of those cases were for bariatric surgery, such as gastric bands and stomach stapling, to relieve weight loss. There were 6,760 procedures recorded in 2016-17 – up five per cent on the year before.
However, the vast majority of the 617,000 obesity related admissions recorded it as a secondary diagnosis, where the patient’s weight contributed to their admission or was an important consideration in their care.
This applies to joint problems caused by the additional weight, sleep apnoea where excess fat can obstruct the airways, and complications in pregnancy caused by the being overweight.
A major chunk of cases will be linked to type 2 diabetes which accounts for 90 per cent of the four million diabetes cases in the UK, and its treatment accounts for as much as 10 per cent of the NHS budget, but it can be largely avoided and treated by losing weight.
Some of the areas with the most obesity related admissions in the UK were the Wirral, Southampton and Slough, which all recorded more than 2,500 per 100,000 patients.
However, the highest levels of weight loss surgery were in Telford and Wrekin, where there were 53 procedures per 100,000 patients, followed by Redcar and Cleveland in the North East.
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity, at NHS England said: “We have been clear that the growing obesity crisis sweeping the country is a public health crisis and the evidence backs it up.
“Obesity is associated with heart attacks, cancer, Type 2 diabetes and a number of other illnesses – causing personal suffering and costing the health service and in turn the taxpayer, billions every year. And for all of those conditions, wherever possible, prevention is preferable to cure.
A third of NHS hospitals have yet to sign up to a charter to voluntarily reduce sales of sugary drinks, and face an outright ban later this year.
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