The obesity prevalence
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of adults in England were classed as being overweight or living with obesity in 2015. One in three children leaves primary school overweight or obese. The prevalence of obesity is similar among men and women, however, men are more likely to be overweight. Obesity is one of the largest health crises the UK faces.
The cost of obesity
The overall cost of obesity to wider society is projected at £27 billion. Obesity comes with high costs to NHS as well. It is estimated that the NHS spent £6.1 billion on overweight and obesity-related comorbidities from 2014 to 2015.
In comparison, the social and economic costs of alcohol-related harm amount to £21.5 billion annually in England, whereas harm from illegal drug use costs £10.7 billion a year. Alcohol-related harm is estimated to cost the NHS £3.5 billion in England every year.
Local authority expenditure
Obesity comes with high costs to NHS and our society. Obesity costs more than alcohol-related harm. Yet, local authorities spent a fraction on treating and preventing obesity. You can see from the pie chart below that 26% of the funding that is allocated to local authorities goes into substance misuse, 22 % is allocated for sexual health and 5% for smoking. On average 2.26% of the public health allocation was spent on weight management services. Despite higher costs to NHS and our society, the allocation of public health funds by local authorities to help overweight and obese people lose weight is significantly lower than allocation for other public health issues. In addition, the HOOP Report (2015) found that the investments in supporting people with weight problems have declined by 10% overall and 17% for children in one year since 2013.
Do you feel that local governments take the issue of obesity seriously?
Table 1. The pie chart on the left shows average public health allocation from 132 authorities in 2014. The bar chart on the right shows costs of public health issues in 2014; red colour: direct cost (NHS); yellow: indirect cost (work productivity, social care, housing modification, unemployment etc.).
The table shows local authority expenditure in 2014.
New funding for weight management services in 2021
In March this year, the Government announced £100 million of new funding to help support people in achieving a healthier body weight in the financial year 2021 to 2022. Over the last 12 months, it has become more apparent how excess weight increases the risk of severe complications of COVID-19.
£70 million are set to support weight management services, but also services from pregnancy through to those aimed at primary school-aged children. This will enable up to 700,000 adults to access support in a form of digital apps, weight management groups or individual coaches, to specialist clinical support. How much money each authority receives will depend on a few factors such as population size, level of deprivation and prevalence of obesity. The extra funding can be used to provide more places on existing weight management services or to buy new services. For children, the funding will be used to pilot the expansion of behavioural weight management services and the distribution of extended brief interventions for children who are at a healthy weight and their families in 5 to 10 local authorities.
The rest of the funding £30 million will go to fund initiatives to help people maintain a healthy weight, including access to the free NHS 12 week weight loss plan app and the continuity of the Better Health marketing campaign. Some money from that pot will also go towards upskilling healthcare professionals to support children and families to lead healthy lives.
Clearly, obesity is a big problem in the UK, over 60% of the population in England were classed as being overweight or living with obesity in 2015. It is very likely that this figure is bigger now. The public health allocations on weight management services are extremely low when compared to other public health issues such as substance misuse. They also got reduced in previous years. It does not look like the Government is taking this matter seriously. Yes, there is £100 million extra of new funding which is going to support weight management services but this extra budget is allocated just for 1 year. Also, yet again, the extra funding is much lower than what is provided for other public health issues.
Your feedback is wanted!
What do you think about the new funding for weight management services?
What is your experience with using adult/children weight management services?
And are you aware of the Better Health marketing campaign?