Weight-related stigmas need to be tackled to save the NHS and social care systems
The cost of obesity in the UK is rising, so much so that it could end up bankrupting the NHS and the country’s social care system. And it’s a “fear of offending people” that is largely to blame, new research suggests.
According to the Social care and obesity report from the Local Government Association, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ‘the urgent need for long-term reform and sustainable funding for adult social care’. The report says that while all areas of adult social care need to be looked at, the impact of obesity should be a top priority.
The Local Government Association (LGA) report says council care costs are rising as levels of obesity increase. That’s because more people are living longer in ill-health and requiring costly housing adaptations, specialist equipment and personal care.
As a person’s BMI rises, so too does the likelihood of them needing help with social care. The LGA report says a 1 kg/m² increase in BMI is associated with a 5% rise in the odds of need for help with social care. Furthermore, obese people are 25% more likely to be using some form of long-term care in two years, than those with a healthy BMI.
The report authors calculated that the yearly cost of council funded community-based social care for an individual with severe obesity and a BMI of 40, would be £1,086 — nearly double the cost for a person with a BMI of 23, which is in the healthy range. This equates to an extra £423,000 in annual excess social care costs for a typical council.
Britain has one of the highest obesity rates in Western Europe, with NHS figures showing that one in every four adults and one in every five children is obese. Furthermore, if current trends continue, as many as one in three adults will be obese by 2024.
The LGA report says that if the impact of obesity on adult social care is to be lessened, weight-related stigmas need to be tackled.
For example, the report reveals how many practitioners’ clients have health conditions like fibromyalgia, musculoskeletal issues and type 2 diabetes as a result of being obese. However, the underlying issue (obesity) is rarely discussed because the practitioners do not want to offend their patients and because there is a lack of referral services for people living with severe obesity.
In a world where we are often afraid of speaking the honest truth, openness and honesty have become more important than ever. However, there is a correct way of going about this along with huge support required from our government and a full understanding of obesity and how we can overcome this.
Until obesity is recognised as a mental health issue and food manufacturers stop creating highly palatable and addictive foods containing zero nutrients, then the battle will be lost. We all need to play a role as consumers to demand higher quality foods, as well as having the education to understand the implications of having a long term illness that can cause suffering.