Obesity epidemic 'could bankrupt the NHS'
Tackling Britain’s obesity epidemic could bankrupt the NHS, a leading expert has warned.
It is anticipated that obesity could cost as much as £45 billion a year by 2050, to pay for growing incidents of diabetes, strokes and heart disease as well as the loss of earnings by those too heavy to work, a conference was warned.
Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum (NOF), said the financial implications of obesity were "huge" and claimed the Government would have to confront the food industry to tackle the problem.
The obesity crisis is currently thought to cost the NHS £1 billion a year to treat but with half the population expected to be obese by 2050, the bill is due to rise much higher.
Dr Waine’s warning comes as the Government was accused of shelving its target to stop the rise in childhood obesity by 2010.
The British Heart Foundation said even this modest target has been replaced, quietly, with a longer-term goal to give ministers time to "get their act together".
The new target to reduce childhood obesity to 2000 levels by 2020 was hidden in the Comprehensive Spending Review published last week.
Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: "Setting new targets for 2020 is presumably a tactic to buy the Government more time to get its act together.
"It’s not as if this crisis is new – we have been warning of its severity and urgency for years but no coordinated cross-Government strategy has been formed. The pace of change needs to be quickened."
At the National Obesity Forum conference in London yesterday, experts said the Government needs a co-ordinated approach across all aspects of life.
Dr Waine said there had been a tendency for the obesity problem to be heaped on the individual, whereas the situation was more complex than that.
"It may need Government to confront the food industry... it also means governments rethinking environments to plan them around the pedestrian, not the motor car.
"It does require a large amount of political courage to do it.
"I’m cautiously optimistic that the Health Secretary seems to have appreciated the sheer size of the problem.
"I hope he influences his colleagues to come up with the right policies."
Dr Waine estimated it could take five to 10 years before such action would really produce results. He said: "It means the sooner we start, the better.
"Even with the very generous funding that we have had, the problem is escalating so quickly we are not just going to get an epidemic of obesity, we are going to have an epidemic of type II diabetes.
"The complications of that are very costly."
He warned the financial cost of obesity would have "huge implications". "It could bankrupt the NHS," he said.
Health Secretary Alan Johnson said at the weekend that the obesity epidemic could lead to a public health crisis on the "scale of climate change".
He said efforts to promote exercise and healthy eating had to go "further and faster" in response to the stark findings of the new Government Foresight study
Labels: Obesity epidemic