Research published in the journal BMC Public Health has suggested that increasing levels of obesity and excessive weight could have the same impact on healthcare resources as an extra billion people added to the global population. The researchers, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, calculated the total weight of the global population as well as projected increases when establishing their results.
At the same time, a worrying GP Magazine report has also revealed in the Guardian that the majority of NHS trusts are limiting operations, including bariatric surgeries, in the UK.
While the research and report are not linked, the latter is unnerving given the information the former is presenting. The fact that obesity is continuing to increase is an undeniable problem. When the fact that operations are being “rationed” - 6 out of 10 bariatric surgeries are being held back - is also taken into account, a worrying picture is created.
The primary reason for the practice of "rationing" operations seems to be saving funds in situations where patients do not necessarily require surgery, and instead promoting initial care and guidance. This seems fair enough given that it is up to individual GPs to determine the best treatment route for patients, including surgical referrals. However, alarmingly, the report showed that 9 out of 10 trusts had procedures that restricted such referrals, based on the “non-urgent” or “low clinical value” nature of weight loss surgery.
A body mass index (BMI) of 30 and over is the medically accepted threshold for diagnosing obesity, and the condition is known to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes, various cancers and heart disease. According to the Department of Health and the 2010 Health Survey for England (HSE), nearly 63% of English adults were overweight or obese, while 30% of children aged two to 15 suffered from the condition.
Given these numbers, it is quite clear that obesity is not something that can be ignored or dismissed as “non-urgent”. It is true that surgery might not always be an option, and that certainly isn’t what is being criticised, but the fact that referrals are being “blocked” suggests this is not always being done in the interests of patient care.
According to David Haslam, a GP and the chair of the National Obesity Forum, who commented on the report, it is also not being done in the interest of cost savings. “Bariatric surgery is amongst the most clinically effective and cost effective [in] any field of medicine…because of the huge fiscal savings to the wider economy,” he said.
When this point is placed alongside the initial research that estimates that the healthcare cost of obesity will rise to a point similar to the impact of an extra billion people, any current financial reasons preventing individuals from bariatric surgery seem counterproductive. If it is possible for us to minimise the projections of the future costs of obesity now, surely that is something we should do. Isn't it just that simple?