Editorial: Prevention is the priority in tackling obesity

The UK's expanding waistlines are costing the NHS billions - and the problem is getting worse. In 2006, 24 per cent of adults in England were classed as obese, up from 15 per cent in 1993. This has huge consequences for NHS resources.

This week, GP reveals that one in six PCTs has increased spending on obesity by more than sevenfold over the past three years - a staggering rise. The DoH, meanwhile, has estimated that by 2015 obesity will cost the NHS in England alone £6.3 billion.

The NHS cannot afford to stand back and do nothing. Money needs to be invested in prevention and treatment. On the face of it, therefore, it seems good news that PCTs are spending more. But there is concern on the ground that money is not being directed to the right places.

PCTs are having to buy new equipment to deal with patients' bulging girths and, while they all state that tackling obesity is a key priority, there is a general feeling that more should be spent on prevention, as well as increasing uptake of bariatric surgery.

The number of people undergoing bariatric surgery has risen 40 per cent in the last year. Yet, as our investigation shows, PCTs are turning down increasing numbers of requests for surgery from patients who fail to meet NICE criteria. What's more, as Dr David Haslam points out, PCTs are finding other excuses to turn down surgery, presumably to keep costs down.

This is a false economy. Ensuring more people had surgery (if this was the best option for them) would save money long term. It would be better if people could lose weight through diet and exercise but, as GPs know too well, many find this impossible.

Ideally, people would not become overweight in the first place. Prevention should be the cornerstone of any plan to tackle obesity, but it is difficult to measure and, therefore, often not seen as a priority.

This attitude has to change. Like it or not, obesity is the NHS's problem. Unless primary care organisations spend money on prevention now, the long-term costs may be too much for the NHS to bear.

More Opinion Online

  • Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week
  • Bradshaw gaff - Ben Bradshaw suggested unemployment might be good for men's health since 'more men go and see their GPs if they are unemployed' - unless, of course, they're bogged down with benefits claims or at home waiting for the bailiffs.
  • Smoking world leaders - Apparently, there is to be a repeal of the smoking ban at the ExCel Conference Centre during the G20 summit: how can this be allowed for world leaders when it is forbidden in any other workplace at any other time?

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