£2.1bn cost of English flab eats into national wealth

15 Feb 01
With millions enjoying Valentine's Day blow-outs, February 14 may not have been the perfect day to warn the population about the dangers of obesity.

16 February 2001

But the National Audit Office would not be deflected from its salutary duty. Obesity and related illnesses, it warned, cost the NHS £500m a year. With the population growing fatter, that figure is set to rise.

The auditor said its estimate, which is the equivalent of 1.5% of health service spending in England in 1998, was conservative. Studies in countries with similar levels of obesity showed that it accounted for between 2% and 6% of national care budgets in England in 1998 this would have been between £0.7bn and £2.1bn.

The NAO found that about a fifth of the adult population was obese in 1998 almost three times as many as in 1980. This cost the economy £2.1bn in lost output. If current trends continue, more than a quarter of all adults could be obese by 2010, costing the NHS and the wider economy £3.6bn.

Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, said there were wide variations in the way general practices which treat 95% of obese patients manage weight problems. GPs would welcome greater guidance on effective treatment programmes, he said.

While 83% of health authorities identified obesity as a risk to public health, only 28% had taken action to reduce it. There are no national guidelines for reducing obesity, though health authorities' future plans are likely to include weight reduction strategies as part of the implementation of the National Service Framework for coronary heart disease.

Bourn also called for greater cross-government planning between the Department of Health and the departments for Culture, Media and Sport and Education and Employment.

`There are no easy solutions to the problem but progress is possible,' he added.


Did you enjoy this article?