Page last updated at 16:21 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

NHS obesity admissions 'rocket'

Obese man
Obesity increases the risk of conditions such as diabetes

The number of people being treated for conditions related to obesity has risen dramatically, in part due to surgery now being widely available on the NHS.

Figures for England show an annual rise of 60% in conditions linked to obesity and a 360% increase on five years ago.

The statistics, which include treatment for breathing and heart problems, reflect the growing problem of obesity.

But they also suggest that many more people are now seeking surgical solutions for their weight.

Bariatric surgery involves banding part of the stomach to reduce its size or even removing a portion on it. Either way, it reduces the amount that can be ingested at once.

It was approved by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence at the end of 2007 as a treatment for those with a BMI in excess of 40 - or 35 if they have other health problems - and for whom anti-obesity drugs have not worked.

The increasing demand for bariatric surgery is going to put a lot of pressure on the NHS
Tam Fry
National Obesity Forum

There were 8,085 admissions for obesity in 2008-2009 in England, the NHS Information Centre figures show.

More than half of these were for surgery, the other half for the treatment of diseases caused by obesity - including for breathing problems, type 2 diabetes, circulation or organ failure, or heart disease.

These latter admissions had increased year on year, although the figures are still relatively small - accounting for 3,839 of 14.2 million hospital admissions in total.

Obesity has risen dramatically since the early 1990s: in 1993, 16% of women and 13% of men were classed as obese, but now it is believed a quarter of the population fits the criteria.

Tim Straughan, head of the NHS Information Centre, said: "The large increase in admissions for obesity reflects the growing impact that obesity has on the health of our nation as well as the demands it is placing on limited NHS resources.

"However, it also reflects the fact that overweight people are resorting to treatments such as bariatric surgery to tackle their health problems."

Clinical decisions

Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said society was after a "quick fix" for obesity.

"We no longer try to use diet and exercise as a way of treating this problem. The increasing demand for bariatric surgery is going to put a lot of pressure on the NHS."

But Gillian Merron, public health minister, argued the government was indeed trying to promote lifestyle improvements with its Change4Life campaign.

"We are taking action to address it and to prevent people becoming obese in the first place, backed up by major investment.

"Treating patients with drugs or recommending surgery is rightly a clinical decision - a healthier diet and more activity should be tried first."

While obesity remained one of the biggest health challenges, she also noted that rates among children appeared to be levelling off.

But the Conservative shadow health minister Mike Penning said the 360% rise in admissions was a "damning indictment of a Labour Party that has run out of ideas".

"Regrettably, the Labour government have neglected their responsibilities when it comes to helping people to live healthy lives," he said.

"There has never been a consistent plan to address the very serious problem of obesity, and these hospital admissions show that all too clearly."

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