The NHS has been urged to offer guidance to doctors to take a non-judgemental role in the treatment of overweight or obese patients.
The health watchdog has suggested that overweight patients be prescribed Weight Watchers by NHS doctors. GPs will be requested to offer the 3-month, £100 courses to patients.
The UK has the second highest obesity rate in Europe which indicates that this new plan will cost hundreds of millions of pounds to implement.
The National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is asking doctors to consider the referral of those who are overweight and those who are obese.
In the UK around 25% of adults are classified as obese, with a further 40% being classed as overweight.
Experts have stated that even a small amount of weight loss would save money for the NHS as it would cut the costs of patients developing heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Obesity-related illnesses currently cost the NHS about £5.1bn a year.
NICE have stated that slimming courses, such as Slimming World and Weight Watchers are an effective way of overcoming the costs of rising obesity rates. They state that even if a patient loses less than one stone, money will be saved by the reduction in the number of those developing serious illnesses.
GPs have been told to give priority to patients with long-term health conditions, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and type-2 diabetes, but the guidelines are asking them to consider referring overweight and obese patients.
The NHS is already paying for obese patients to attend slimming classes and is currently spending around £800000 on Weight Watchers each year.
The new guidance is set to see many more patients being referred.
Figures indicate that patients attending Weight Watchers and similar classes manage to lose about 3% of their body weight only. NICE stated that although the amount is small, it will benefit their health as long as they manage to keep it off.
However, campaigners have questioned the sustainability of the cost of the courses and raised fears about the long-term effectiveness of the guidance.
NICE stated that if an individual with a body mass index of 35 was to lose 5% of their body weight, they would add about two to four years to their life. This is applicable to a female who is 5ft 6in in height and weighs 13 stone, losing over two stone.
The benefits are greater for those who are more overweight. An individual with a BMI of 40 who loses 5% of their weight could add between eight and 10 years to their lives.
Not all obese patients will be referred automatically. It will be dependent upon the funds that are available.
Image Credit: Tony Alter