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Last Updated: Friday, 19 December, 2003, 12:46 GMT
NHS teams up with Weight Watchers
A growing number of Britons are obese
The NHS has teamed up with one of the country's biggest slimming clubs to help patients to lose weight.

Patients are being offered discounted membership at Weight Watchers as part of efforts to tackle obesity.

The scheme is being piloted in three cities in England. If successful, it could be extended across the country.

It comes as new figures from the Health Survey for England show more people than ever before are overweight or obese.

Getting fatter

It found that almost one in three children between the ages of two and 15 are now overweight. That's up 50% since the mid 1990s. One in six of these children is obese.

The survey of 12,000 people found that young adults are also getting fatter.

Obesity is a big problem for the NHS
Paula Hunt, Weight Watchers
Among those aged between 16 and 24, 32% of men and 33% of women were either overweight or obese.

One in 10 young men and one in eight young women is obese.

There are growing fears that Britain is on the verge of an obesity timebomb.

Rates of obesity are rising sharply and there is concern that millions of people are storing up potential health problems for the future.

A recent report suggested over 40 % of the UK population could be obese "within a generation".

The Commons health committee has launched an inquiry into the issue.

Under the Weight Watchers scheme, doctors and nurses ask overweight patients if they would like to attend a local slimming club meeting.

Practice nurses have been issued with vouchers which they can give to patients interested in attending.

"Patients are offered 12 meetings for the price of 10 or maybe five meetings with one free," said Paula Hunt, a dietician at Weight Watchers.

"We are testing a number of different schemes but we think the benefits of this scheme is that it doesn't cost the NHS anything.

"There is also a view that people appreciate things more if they have to pay towards them".

Major problem

The first scheme was launched in London in September. Additional schemes are now getting underway in the Midlands and in the North of England.

Staff at Weight Watchers are planning to interview a sample of patients, GPs and nurses over the coming months to find out how effective the scheme is.

However, Ms Hunt is confident that the scheme could have major benefits for the NHS.

"This is an issue that doctors and nurses are starting to take seriously," she told BBC News Online.

"They are under increasing pressure from primary care trusts to tackle the problem but they are also seeing more people coming through their doors with weight problems.

"Obesity is a big problem for the NHS. The higher the prevalence of obesity, the greater the cost to the NHS.

"Obesity is linked to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

"There is also a strong association with arthritis. People can also have problems sleeping.

"It is not just about the killer diseases. It can also be a huge inconvenience and disruption for people."

Experts warn 40% 'will be obese'
11 Nov 03  |  Health


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