Obesity is preventable, yet costs the National Health Service billions of pounds per year while public health continues to decline. Something's got to change.
“Enough about Brexit; it’s time to start talking about obesity.” This message comes loud and clear from Britain’s top doctors and researchers, who wrote a letter published in The Guardian on May 4. In it, they warn the government that the “obesogenic environment in which our children grow up” must be addressed, and clear political will is required.
With Britain’s election scheduled for the beginning of June, the letter is meant to send a strong and timely message to whoever takes power – that the health system is already struggling to support the burden of rampant obesity and that associated costs will continue to rise. If current trends continue, half of all children in the UK will be obese or overweight by 2020. The doctors, all of whom are members of the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), wrote:
“Alongside the economy and education, health is consistently a top priority for voters. And tackling what is one of the biggest public health threats to our health and National Health Service sustainability – obesity – continues to be a public priority. The evidence is clear that obesity racks up a staggering bill: at least £5 billion (US $6.5 billion) to the NHS and tens of billions to society every year.”
To put this into perspective, the OHA says that £5 billion could be used for a lot of other valuable things, including paying “the salary of 165,000 nurses, 85,000 hospital doctors, 116,000 heart transplants, or for 730,000 hip replacements.”
The OHA has published a 10-point manifesto for action on obesity. Its suggestions include eliminating junk food advertising to children (including sporting events and family attractions); adding taxes to sugary products; reducing sugar, fat, and salt in prepared foods; improving nutritional labeling; serving healthier lunches at school and teaching kids how to cook; and funding weight-management programs for kids.
According to The Guardian, Downing Street has been accused of caving to food industry interests by not making healthier ingredient lists a mandatory requirement. No doubt such food politics will sound familiar to Americans frustrated by the interference of industry players in the creation of the latest USDA nutrition guidelines.
The letter's message is clear:
“Whoever forms the next government cannot afford to neglect the obesity agenda. Obesity is blighting lives, costing the NHS billions a year, jeopardizing the health of future generations, and it is entirely preventable.”