How big a problem is obesity to the NHS?

I was reading a study on Monday (led by Queen Mary University of London and the University of Glasgow) about how people with Type 2 diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop aggressive liver conditions. 

This form of diabetes is often linked to being overweight and/or inactive, and it got me thinking about obesity and the impact it, and the conditions it can trigger, have on the NHS. 

The UK currently has the highest level of obesity in Europe, with almost a third (29%- a 3% rise on the previous year) of adults obese and nearly two out of three overweight. Obesity plays a huge role in the additional strain on the NHS, with more people admitted to hospital with heart conditions, gallstones and even requiring hip and knee replacements as a result of their weight issues. 

According to the latest figures, there were more than 700,000 obesity-related hospital admissions in 2017/18 (an increase of 100k on the previous year) - and severely obese individuals are three times more likely to require social care than those within a normal weight range. However, the most worrying statistic is that just over 20% of children are currently leaving primary school classified as obese. 

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, wrote an article in 2014 urging people to “Get Serious about Obesity or face bankrupting the NHS” – a fairly hard-hitting headline, yet the situation has continued to deteriorate 

“Obesity is the new smoking, and it represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising health care costs,” Stevens says. “If as a nation we keep piling on the pounds around the waistline, we’ll be piling on the pounds in terms of future taxes needed just to keep the NHS afloat.” 

So, if Obesity really is the new smoking, what services do the NHS offer to help? 

From reviewing the NHS – Live Well – Healthy Weight verses NHS – Live Well – Quit Smoking there certainly appears to be more NHS driven support services and treatments available for smokers when compared to people who are overweight or obese. Admittedlythere are weight loss guides and lots of information available to help people who wish to keep fit and healthy but there are arguably less treatments 

They say prevention is better than cure and the NHS is obviously taking this approach when it comes to obesity – but is it enough considering the strain the condition ultimately puts on the National Health Service? 

One thing to note is that smoking is now vilified to a certain degree with no smoking indoors and severe health warnings on packets. On 24 June, the Government published a second chapter of their Childhood Obesity Plan. This includes proposals for clear, consistent and compulsory calorie labelling that were consulted on over the autumn.  

I for one think that making the traffic light system on food labels and in restaurants compulsory is a no-brainer in order to give people clear decisions on their food choices…what do you think? What is the solution to this ever growing issue? 



Queen Mary University of London Website 

Nuffield Trust 

NHS England 

NHS Digital 


About the author
Ash Higgs Managing Director

Ash Higgs is the Managing Director of MCG Healthcare. He has a long-demonstrated history working in recruitment and has now been involved in the medical industry for over 5 years. During this time, he has gained a strong understanding of the issues that both Primary & Secondary Care are facing regarding the recruitment of healthcare professionals.

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