The NHS England chief executive has stated that unless Britain becomes serious about tackling the obesity problem, it could bankrupt the health service.
Simon Stevens said that obesity is the new smoking and is like a slow-motion car accident as regards rising health care costs and avoidable illness. He said that if the nation continues to gain weight, future tax increases may be required to keep the NHS in business.
Stevens accepted the post this year and has said that the health of millions of children, NHS sustainability and Britain’s economic prosperity all depend on a major upgrade in public health and prevention.
As part of the new public health remit, responsibility for obesity has been passed on to the local authorities. Although public health budgets have been reined in by the government, local authorities have the responsibility to spend it as needed in their area. Some people are concerned that obesity, a problem that is very difficult to tackle as it requires the involvement of education departments, town planners and the health department may not have sufficient funding to be successful.
Stevens has made it clear that obesity could prompt negative results not only on the health of the nation, but also on the health service of the country.
He said that almost 20% of secondary school age children and 25% of adults are obese. This is an increase of 15% from two decades ago. Stevens pointed out that if obesity is not curbed, the rise in disability and avoidable illness will be significant.
According to Diabetes UK, obesity and overweight is largely responsible for type-2 diabetes, and already costs the NHS about £9bn.
The proposals for the future for the NHS are due to be published in a report set for release next month.
The Five Year Forward View will make recommendations on a number of actions that could make a huge difference.
• New incentives to be introduced to ensure that the NHS sets an example as an employer. The 1.3 million staff members should remain healthy and should be motivated to become health ambassadors in their communities. The NHS Trusts offer aid to their staff to quit smoking, but only one third offer help to maintain a healthy weight. Around 75% do not provide healthy meals to their staff working night shifts
• Employers in England should be offered financial incentives if they provide effective workplace health programmes for their employees
• The report is due to call for NHS investment to be shifted towards proven and targeted prevention programmes, as many of the illnesses that result in people being admitted to hospital and which shorten lives can be prevented. Presently, the NHS is spending more funds on bariatric surgery to overcome obesity than it does on the national rollout of the intensive lifestyle intervention programmes, which, a decade ago, proved to be successful in cutting obesity and preventing diabetes
• Mayors and local councils should be offered special powers to make decisions regarding tobacco, alcohol, fast food and other public health issues in their areas
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