Britain is grappling with an obesity crisis that is inflicting a staggering economic toll of nearly £100 billion annually, as per a comprehensive report by the Tony Blair Institute. This figure, highlighted in a report published by The Times, indicates that the impact of obesity on national productivity is far more severe than previously estimated, being ninefold higher.
The financial implications are forecasted to escalate by an additional £10 billion over the coming 15 years. This total cost, inclusive of the £63 billion attributed to shorter life spans and compromised health due to obesity, equates to roughly 4% of the nation’s GDP.
Henry Dimbleby, the former government advisor on food, is advocating for stringent measures akin to those applied to tobacco, targeting junk food. He warns that without decisive action, Britain risks becoming a nation burdened by illness and economic decline. Dimbleby is poised to highlight these concerns in a speech at a Royal Society conference, stressing the potential strain on the NHS and consequent economic stagnation.
Amid these warnings, the government has postponed initiatives like the 9pm junk food advertising watershed and restrictions on promotional deals for unhealthy food products until 2025. Health Secretary Victoria Atkins has expressed a desire to offer health guidance in a non-patronising manner.
A Department of Health spokesperson reiterated the government’s commitment to tackling obesity, pointing to initiatives like food-labelling standards, investment in school sports, and healthy food vouchers for underprivileged families.
Hermione Dace from the Tony Blair Institute underscored the critical link between the nation’s health and its economic prosperity, calling for a revamped approach to promote healthier food options and discourage the profitability of ultra-processed and junk food.
The obesity epidemic has intensified, with two-thirds of British adults now classified as having overweight or obesity, a significant rise from half a generation ago. Notably, the average weights of British men and women have increased by 6kg and 5kg, respectively, since 1993.Read More
In a groundbreaking investigation led by the team at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW), the potential and efficacy of digital platforms tailored for advanced weight management have been highlighted.
The research revolved around assessing the eagerness, acceptance, and active participation of patients on standby for their first-ever specialist weight management consultation. In the United Kingdom, specialised weight management services, often referred to as tier 3 services, offer a holistic approach to tackling obesity. These specialised services are generally anchored in hospitals or clinic facilities and bring together a diverse group of healthcare specialists. This includes dietitians, psychologists, specialist nurses, and doctors, all proficient in the realm of weight management.
For the purposes of this research, an NHS-approved digital platform named Gro Health was integrated into the service offering. This avant-garde health application propels numerous healthcare routes, with its tier 3 weight management feature, “W8Buddy”, acting as an online weight loss clinic. This feature delivers structured learning sessions, both individual and group coaching, an expansive list of over 2,000 recipes and meal schedules, and tools for health and nutrition tracking to chart progress.
The study drew in 199 prospective patients eagerly waiting for their appointment at the NHS Trust’s tier 3 weight management service.
Preliminary results indicate that over half of these individuals expressed genuine interest in the application. An impressive one-third went on to actively engage with the digital platform, highlighting the immense potential of such digital interventions in the specialised weight management scenario.
The engagement analysis unearthed intriguing data points. Those prone to emotional eating or those with an escalated BMI exhibited an increased propensity towards the Gro Health application. Meanwhile, aspects like age, ethnic background, and metabolic indicators like glycemia and lipid readings did not notably sway the interest.
These findings could serve as a blueprint for revolutionising weight management strategy. As digital healthcare tools evolve and gain traction, they stand poised as formidable and expansive strategies to confront the global issue of obesity.
Charlotte Summers, a behavioural change expert and the Founding Chief Operations Officer, expressed her enthusiasm, noting, “The pronounced interest demonstrated by patients in the Gro Health W8Buddy tool for weight management is truly heartening.”
She drew attention to the evident link between emotional eating, a raised BMI, and heightened engagement, highlighting, “This relationship underscores the transformative capacity of precise digital strategies in addressing weight-related concerns.”
Summers further elaborated on the journey ahead, “As we venture into providing tier 3 and 4 weight management services, we’re thrilled about tailoring these platforms with firsthand insights from both patients and healthcare providers. Such a collaborative effort not only champions a patient-driven model but also deepens our grasp on their preferences and anticipations. This, in turn, empowers us to offer top-tier, accurate care, be it through enhancing conventional healthcare avenues or pioneering virtual healthcare experiences.”
The study’s authors stress the need for continued exploration into understanding the challenges and motivators behind adopting digital tools and emphasise the importance of rigorously assessing their impact within specialised weight management services.
The rise of digital health platforms is sculpting the future of healthcare. This specific investigation underscores the transformative power of such tools, all while highlighting the necessity to unravel the complexities of patient engagement. As we witness the proliferation and capabilities of digital health platforms, the persistent quest to maximise their utility for patients and the broader healthcare spectrum is paramount.
Stay tuned for more revelations as ongoing studies continue to sculpt this rapidly evolving domain of weight management.Read More
In the UK, the NHS (National Health Service) in England is gearing up to administer the weight-loss drug Wegovy, also known by its scientific name semaglutide, under a “controlled and limited launch.” This initiative, starting from September 4, 2023, will operate via specialist NHS weight management services, where the drug will be prescribed in conjunction with a regimen involving a reduced-calorie diet and physical exercise. The patients targeted in this program must have a Body Mass Index (BMI) exceeding 30 and at least one weight-related health issue to qualify.
The drug, produced by Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, received approval for NHS usage earlier in 2023, a sanction granted by the National Institute for Care and Excellence (NICE), which has recommended its usage be capped at a two-year period.
Addressing the prospects of this new treatment, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak heralded the introduction of Wegovy as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against obesity, a condition known to predispose individuals to serious health complications such as hypertension, diabetes, and various forms of cancer. The prime minister expressed optimism that this strategy would alleviate the strain on NHS resources, contribute to the reduction of waiting lists, and foster improved health and longevity among the populace.
Echoing these sentiments, Novo Nordisk anticipates that the drug will enhance the range of options available for individuals grappling with obesity, thus facilitating their journey towards achieving healthier body weights.
Earlier in June, the government had set aside £40 million for a pilot project intended to widen the accessibility of weight-loss injections as part of a robust strategy to curb obesity.
However, the initiative encountered a significant hurdle as Novo Nordisk reported an impending shortage in the supply of semaglutide, a situation anticipated to persist for an unspecified period. Despite this, the company reassured that a “proportion of available supply” would be designated for NHS services, with a firm commitment to prioritising patients demonstrating the “highest unmet medical need.”
An official communication from the NHS noted that in line with the guidance from NICE, measures are underway to inaugurate weight management undertakings, while also making efforts to restore the drug supply, particularly for individuals diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
According to NHS projections, approximately 50,000 qualified patients in England stand to benefit from Wegovy, provided through NHS specialist weight management facilities capable of offering the necessary multi-disciplinary care.
Backing the efficacy of Wegovy, Novo Nordisk presented findings from a comprehensive five-year research project titled the Select trial. The study, which incorporated 17,604 adults aged 45 and above from 41 different countries, revealed that the drug could diminish the likelihood of heart attacks or strokes in individuals with obesity harbouring cardiovascular diseases by a considerable twenty percent. Participants in this trial were characterised by a BMI exceeding 27, established cardiovascular ailments, and devoid of any diabetes history.Read More
Set to transform patient care, the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub is a groundbreaking £4 million project with ambitious goals. It aims to revolutionise the treatment and diagnosis of diseases for a population of 1.4 million people living in a region heavily impacted by high disease prevalence and pronounced health inequalities. This initiative, led by the University of Sheffield, leverages innovative digital technologies to shape the future of healthcare.
Utilising state-of-the-art tools and techniques, the hub intends to pioneer cutting-edge research using data gleaned from smartphones, wearables, novel sensors, and the National Health Service (NHS) data. In addition to these, artificial intelligence (AI) will play a crucial role in the development of new clinical tools. This paradigm shift is set to redefine personalised patient care and facilitate disease management effectively.
The South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub has an impressive roster of partners, including Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, local General Practitioners (GPs), mental health services, the Sheffield Integrated Care System, businesses, and patient and public groups. The collective intelligence of these stakeholders will forge a robust knowledge pool, capitalising on the region’s existing prowess in developing digital health technologies.
The Hub, among five across the UK, has been granted part of £16.5 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Health Ageing and Wellbeing and Tackling Infections UKRI Strategic Themes. This financial backing aims to address four central healthcare challenges: antimicrobial resistance, disease prediction, diagnosis and intervention, out-of-hospital care, and tackling health disparities through the development and deployment of digital healthcare technologies.
The project targets both urban and rural populations, working towards addressing the unique healthcare needs shaped by significant health and social inequalities. Simultaneously, it offers a blueprint for stimulating economic growth in the region through digital skills training, networking, and knowledge exchange, bridging various stakeholders in the digital health sphere.
The South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub also proposes to deliver specialist health training online, accessible freely to researchers, clinicians, patients, and the public. Professor Tim Chico, Director of the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub and Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Sheffield, underscored the urgency of this investment. He emphasised the critical role of this state-of-the-art health technology research in tackling health disparities and high disease burden, including heart and lung diseases, cancer, and mental health issues prevalent in the region.
Echoing his sentiments, Professor Steve Haake, Deputy Director of the Digital Health Hub, envisions a future where digital health tools leverage real-time data from daily life. This transformation empowers patients and healthcare professionals to make informed decisions in a timely manner. Under the aegis of the hub, patients, clinicians, companies, and the public will have the autonomy to design their own apps and tools, bolstering their successful integration within the NHS.
Local authorities have thrown their weight behind the establishment of the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub. Oliver Coppard, Mayor of the South Yorkshire Combined Authority, hailed the initiative as an instrumental step towards confronting health inequalities plaguing the region. He lauded the collaborative efforts between the NHS, universities, and the business community in highlighting South Yorkshire’s cutting-edge health and wellbeing sector, asserting its role as a global frontrunner in healthcare innovation.
Forming part of a more extensive £36.5 million investment in healthcare technology from the EPSRC, the Digital Healthcare Hubs, including the South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub, aim to spearhead innovative healthcare solutions. By leveraging advancements in robotics, computer modelling, and imaging, these hubs are set to redefine healthcare outcomes.
The South Yorkshire Digital Health Hub, with its robust collaboration among diverse stakeholders and focus on digital technologies, stands at the forefront of healthcare innovation. By addressing gaps in healthcare delivery and harnessing digital innovation, the hub holds significant promise in reshaping patient care, not only in South Yorkshire but far beyond its borders.Read More
In a determined effort to address the growing obesity problem, Wales is set to implement strict measures aimed at curbing the promotion and accessibility of unhealthy meal deals and temporary price reductions on foods high in fat, sugar, or salt. With almost two-thirds of adults in Wales classified as having either overweight or obesity, the Labour-led government intends to go beyond the initiatives taken in England by enacting legislation to tackle the promotion of ultra-processed foods.
The Welsh government plans to mirror the UK government’s approach in England to restrict volume promotions, such as buy one get one free deals. Additionally, Wales will introduce proposals targeting meal deals and temporary price reductions, acknowledging the urgency of the crisis and the need for more comprehensive actions.
Lynne Neagle, the Welsh Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, emphasised the pressing nature of the situation, stating, “Rising levels of obesity are causing a significant burden of preventable illness in Wales. We must act immediately.” Neagle clarified that the government does not intend to ban meal deals altogether but aims to shift the focus towards healthier, more nutritionally balanced options. Many meal deals currently include large bags of crisps and snacks that are high in fat and sugar. The objective is to ensure that affordable meal deals are available, which are lower in calories, fat, and sugar.
Research conducted by Public Health Wales revealed that three-quarters of lunchtime meal deals exceed recommended calorie and salt levels for a meal. The unhealthiest lunch options provide two-thirds of the daily calorie intake, over 122% of the daily fat intake, 149% of the recommended sugar intake, and 112% of the daily salt intake. The majority of dinnertime meal combinations exceed average energy requirements.
The researchers concluded that if an individual purchased an average meal deal for lunch five days a week, they could gain more than 6 pounds (2.8 kg) in a year. If they opted for a high-calorie meal deal five days a week, the weight gain could reach 47 pounds (21 kg) within a year.
Neagle clarified that temporary price reductions would not be banned either, stating, “Our aim is to rebalance our food environments so that the healthy choice becomes the easy choice.”
The UK government recently delayed the planned ban on buy one get one free deals for junk food by two years, citing concerns over the cost of living crisis. However, the Welsh government is committed to implementing its restrictions by 2025 and intends to proceed even if the UK government does not follow suit.
Neagle expressed hope for alignment across the UK, stating, “It would be great if England moved forward with these plans. We believe that consistency throughout the UK is beneficial, but we have a responsibility to address the crisis we are currently facing in Wales.”
Neagle dismissed the notion that these measures amount to a “nanny state” intervention, highlighting that tackling obesity extends beyond individual responsibility and encompasses the unhealthy food environment people are exposed to on a daily basis.
The regulations will apply to major food retailers, and the government will also explore measures to curb the purchase of unhealthy food online and offers associated with loyalty cards.
According to the Welsh government, 62% of individuals aged 16 and over in Wales either have overweight or obesity.
James Evans, the Welsh Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, stressed the need for clear assurances from the Welsh Labour government that meal deals will not be banned and that any new regulations will not increase the average weekly cost for shoppers.Read More
In response to the alarming rise in childhood obesity, NHS England has announced plans to launch 10 additional clinics specifically tailored to the needs of children with obesity. This expansion comes as part of a concerted effort to combat the escalating numbers of children and young people struggling with obesity and its associated health complications.
According to recent data released by NHS England, hospital admissions for children with obesity have soared in the past decade, with 9,431 admissions recorded in the year 2021/22, compared to just 3,370 in 2011/12.
Targeting children as young as two, the specialised clinics will offer intensive support to children with severe obesity and their families. It is estimated that around 3,000 children and teenagers, ranging from 2 to 18 years of age, will benefit from these services.
These clinics are designed to address not just the physical aspects of obesity, but also the underlying psychological and social factors. The support provided will encompass tailored care packages which are developed in collaboration with the child’s family. These packages may include diet and nutrition plans, mental health support, and personalised coaching, among other services.
This expansion, backed by an £18 million investment, will bring the total number of specialised obesity clinics for children in England to 30. The project is set to be rolled out over the next two years.
Amanda Pritchard, Chief Executive of NHS England, is slated to formally announce the opening of the new clinics at the NHS ConfedExpo conference in Manchester. In her address, she is expected to underscore the urgent need for such initiatives, stating, “Obesity can lead to a myriad of severe illnesses including cancer and diabetes, not only putting tremendous strain on the NHS but also exacting a devastating toll on individuals and their families. Inaction is not an option. These new clinics will offer a comprehensive, compassionate and tailored approach to support thousands of young individuals and their families.”
Professor Simon Kenny, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Children and Young People, emphasised the holistic approach of these clinics. He noted that obesity can have far-reaching effects on every organ system, leading to long-term complications like premature mortality, type 2 diabetes, strokes, early joint replacements, and mental health issues. “By addressing obesity and its root causes in a manner that respects and accommodates the unique circumstances of each child and young person, these clinics will play a pivotal role in helping them lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. Our commitment to supporting the physical and mental health of as many children and young people as possible is unwavering,” he added.Read More
As obesity rates continue to escalate in the UK, National Health Service (NHS) officials report that the annual expenditure on prescription medication has crossed the £10 billion mark.
During the financial year of 2022/23, the NHS allocated £10.4 billion to prescription drugs, which is an approximately 10% increase compared to the preceding year.
A pivotal factor contributing to this surge in spending is the sharp rise in prescriptions for type 2 diabetes medications, such as dapagliflozin and metformin. The NHS spent an estimated £1.4 billion on these medications alone, as per the new report.
Currently, over 60% of the population in the UK is considered overweight, and this figure is expected to climb in the foreseeable future.
In response to the burgeoning obesity crisis, the UK Government plans to provide the weight loss injection semaglutide to individuals struggling with obesity. The medication, branded as Ozempic and Wegovy, is presently available through the NHS for certain patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Last year, the drug accounted for nearly £107 million of the NHS’s expenditure, making it the 11th most costly prescription medication.
The report also highlighted that the anticoagulant Apixaban, used to prevent blood clots, topped the list as the most expensive drug, costing the NHS over £400 million.
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum lamented the fact that little had been done over the past 25 years to prevent obesity. “We are now faced with a staggering number of individuals who require medication to shed weight. Failing to prevent the condition means we are inevitably burdened with exorbitant costs to address it,” he stated.
Fry criticised the NHS for incurring high treatment expenses, stressing that preventative measures are invariably more cost-effective. “Starting from infancy, proactive measures are imperative. It is deeply frustrating to witness the government’s inertia,” he added.
He asserted that prioritising the prevention of obesity, especially during the first five years of life, could save the NHS a substantial amount of money in the long run.
Recent studies reveal that 10% of children have obesity by the time they enter primary school, with this figure rising to one in five by year six. Individuals with obesity are at a heightened risk of developing various health issues, including type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and cardiovascular diseases.
In response to the criticisms, a Government spokesperson defended their efforts to combat obesity. “We have implemented various strategies, including restrictions on the placement of unhealthy foods in supermarkets, menu calorie labelling, and collaborative initiatives with the industry to promote healthier food options,” they stated.
The spokesperson also highlighted the success of the voluntary sugar reduction program in significantly decreasing the sugar content in children’s foods. They credited the sugar tax with halving the amount of sugar in soft drinks.
John O’Connell, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, expressed concerns over the financial burden on taxpayers. “The public is undoubtedly exasperated with bearing these costs, especially when cheaper alternatives are available over the counter,” he remarked.
He urged NHS authorities to take decisive measures to curtail the issue, adding, “The evident ineffectiveness of the existing ban necessitates further action to mitigate these relentless prescriptions.”Read More
General practitioners (GPs) often dispense vague and unproductive weight-loss advice to patients struggling with obesity, reveals a study led by the University of Oxford and published in the journal Family Practice. Having analysed 159 audio recordings of consultations in 137 UK surgeries, researchers found that doctors’ advice, such as “reduce your carbohydrates” and “move more,” was largely generic and rarely tailored to the patients’ pre-existing knowledge and habits.
The complexity of obesity management, particularly its multifactorial nature, can make the provision of comprehensive, effective advice a daunting task for many overworked and diligent GPs. However, in a healthcare landscape where a mere 0.1% of doctors have received any training in obesity care (1), it becomes essential to question the status quo.
Indeed, the imperative nature of this issue becomes clearer when considering the qualitative research led by Dr. Madeleine Tremblett at the University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. For patients living with obesity, Tremblett argues that the common message to “eat less and do more” isn’t fitting. Micro-behavioural changes typically suggested by GPs often fail to create meaningful weight-loss impacts for these patients.
GPs themselves require guidance about evidence-based advice they can offer to people living with obesity, hinting at the need for a more profound understanding and specialised training in obesity care.
While many nutrition professionals acknowledge that weight-loss management is a specialist subject, the current training gap among healthcare professionals indicates an unmet need in medical education. We need to look beyond a sole consultation with a nutritionist and understand the value of comprehensive training, such as that provided by the College of Contemporary Health (CCH).
The case of Mel Idroos, a PGDip in Lifestyle Medicine (Obesity Care) graduate from CCH, serves as an inspiring example of the difference professional training in obesity care can make. Working in the Well-being directorate, Mel’s patient base predominantly consists of individuals with overweight or obesity.
With her Postgraduate Diploma from CCH, Mel has already begun to apply her newfound knowledge, developing and delivering Tier 2 adult weight management services. Mel’s experience underscores the potential of robust and comprehensive training in the treatment of obesity. With her newfound confidence, she can now navigate the complexities of patient questions and provide valuable advice that enhances patient health outcomes.
The training offered by institutions like CCH, coupled with practical implementation, can bring a significant change in patient care. It’s therefore essential for health systems and medical institutions to acknowledge this training gap and equip healthcare professionals with the skills they need to improve their patients’ health.
Obesity is a complex condition that demands a sophisticated approach. Only by tailoring advice to the unique needs and circumstances of each patient can we hope to make strides in obesity care. It’s time to move beyond the “one-size-fits-all” advice and equip our healthcare professionals with the skills to provide non-judgemental nuanced, patient-specific advice. Only then can we truly claim to be tackling the obesity epidemic head-on.
Thus, training healthcare professionals in obesity care is not just an opportunity to improve individual patient outcomes, it’s a public health imperative. Institutions like the College of Contemporary Health, which provide such comprehensive training, are leading the way in this essential work.
- Candesic Consultancy (2015) Obesity training levels in the UK workforce (analysis of HSCIC workforce statistic)
UK government officials are contemplating offering weight-loss injections to children with obesity as young as 12 in an effort to combat the escalating childhood obesity problem in the country.
Specialists are currently evaluating if semaglutide injections, a weight-loss medication recently sanctioned for adult use by the NHS, could be beneficial for children with obesity aged between 12 and 17. Health authorities are now encouraging the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to consider providing these injections to teenagers struggling with obesity.
The final decision, expected to be announced in early 2024, is being supported by experts who argue that the medication could prevent more children from needing invasive weight-loss procedures. However, this suggestion has sparked controversy, with some arguing it could lead to an over-medicalisation of children.
Those opposed to the idea of weight loss injections for children raise several concerns. They fear the potential interference of these drugs with the physical and mental growth and development of children. They also highlight the lack of evidence regarding the long-term effects of such treatments on children’s health.
Critics further argue that such injections might encourage an unhealthy emphasis on weight and physical appearance, potentially leading to body image issues and disordered eating. The potential for serious side effects from weight loss injections is another concern. Additionally, they worry about the psychological message these injections could send, implying that a child’s body is unacceptable as it is.
Professor Keith Godfrey, from the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s Southampton Biomedical Research Centre, warns that providing weight-loss injections to children might lead to the unnecessary medicalisation of an entire generation.
Charlotte Summers from Gro Health, a company offering health and wellbeing programs for adults, children, and young people, advocates for a more holistic approach: “By promoting healthy eating habits, regular physical activity, and a positive relationship with food, we can enable our children to attain and maintain a healthy weight throughout their lives. This comprehensive strategy not only contributes to physical wellbeing, but also lays a solid foundation for emotional and mental health. We must collaborate to support our children in adopting a balanced and wholesome lifestyle for a healthier, brighter future.”Read More
Published in The Guardian, “Higher obesity levels linked to lower productivity in England, research shows” discusses the findings of a new study that shows a correlation between obesity levels and lower productivity in England. The study found that people with obesity tend to miss more work days due to health issues and are less productive when they are at work, leading to a loss of economic output for the country. The article notes that the findings of the study have implications for both employers and policymakers, as addressing obesity and promoting healthy lifestyles could lead to improved health and increased productivity for the workforce. The article also highlights the need for comprehensive programs and policies aimed at reducing obesity levels and improving overall health in England.Read More