Speaking at the annual conference of Public Health England, Simon Stevens called obesity “the new smoking”, claiming that it “represents a slow-motion car crash in terms of avoidable illness and rising healthcare costs.”
Stevens, NHS England’s chief executive, told his Coventry audience that he believes the health of our children, the sustainability of the NHS, and Britain’s economic prosperity all depend on a dramatic improvement in obesity prevention and public health, pointing out that nearly 20% of secondary school children, and 25% of adults, are obese. Twenty years ago, just 15% were obese.
Unchecked, Stevens believes this rise in obesity will cause a huge rise in avoidable illness and disability, including many cases of type 2 diabetes - which already costs the NHS around £9 billion a year, according to Diabetes UK. “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.”
In an NHS ‘Five Year Forward View‘ to be published this month, the NHS will set out proposals that could have a positive impact over the course of the next Parliament.
Proposals being debated include:
Moving NHS investment towards targeted and proven prevention programmes. The NHS currently spends less on the national rollout of intensive lifestyle intervention programmes than it does on bariatric surgery for obesity, yet these programmes were effective in cutting obesity and preventing diabetes over a decade ago.
New incentives will be put into place to ensure the NHS sets an example as an employer by supporting its own 1.3 million staff to stay healthy and act as “health ambassadors” in their local communities. While three quarters of NHS trusts support staff to quit smoking, only about a third offer them help to maintain a healthy weight, with most hospitals failing to offer night staff healthy meal options.
Financial incentives will be recommended for employers in England who provide effective NICE-certified workplace health programmes for employees. Although a tax-funded NHS means that UK employers are not liable for health care costs, Stevens believes that should not mean that the workplace cannot be a setting for more concerted health action. Sickness absence costs employers and taxpayers an estimated £22 billion a year, and over 300,000 people each year leave work to move onto health-related benefits.
By: Daisy Coyte