04 March 2022

World Obesity Day

Today marks World Obesity Day – a day dedicated to raising awareness about the challenges faced by those living obesity and the steps we can all take to provide better support.

The theme of this year’s World Obesity Day is ‘Everybody Needs to Act’, which is particularly fitting given the situation we currently find ourselves in. 

Obesity is among the most pressing public health challenges and rates continue to rise. In England alone, 64% of adults are classified as overweight, 28% are obese, and 3% fall into the morbidly obese category. 

Data also shows that obesity rates are strongly linked to societal inequalities. Recent analysis from The King’s Fund has shown a considerable increase in obesity rates amongst England’s most deprived communities, with people from the most challenging socioeconomic circumstances more than twice as likely to be admitted to hospital for obesity-related issues[1].

The cost of this growing public health crisis is a key concern; in 2014-15, the NHS spent £6.1bn on obesity-related conditions – a figure that is expected to rise to £9.7bn by 2050[2].

Urgent action is required to tackle this challenge and effectively support those living with obesity in the UK – particularly in the current context of Covid-19.

While the UK Government has taken notable steps in recent months as part of its renewed Obesity Strategy, further action must be taken to ensure a holistic and integrated response that delivers behavioural and lifestyle-oriented interventions, alongside clinical interventions such as bariatric surgery.

This will require a whole systems approach that draws on the strengths of every part of the healthcare ecosystem. Greater emphasis must therefore be placed on cross-sector collaboration, particularly between the NHS, the independent sector and the voluntary sector. 

From a surgical perspective, patients seeking treatment on the NHS are subject to lengthy waiting times and limiting guidelines, which often causes individuals to turn to the independent sector for specialist support.

Further cross-sector partnerships would make a tangible difference in this context, ensuring that all patients – regardless of their economic circumstances – have access to tailored, specialist and appropriate care. Such collaboration would also deliver essential time and cost efficiency improvements at a time when the NHS is facing the most significant patient backlog in decades.

The shared experiences from the cross-sector partnership during the pandemic have demonstrated the tangible value that can be achieved for patients when a collaborative mindset is adopted. The learnings from this partnership must now be built upon to address other healthcare challenges; perhaps most notably the worsening obesity crisis. 

I hope that World Obesity Day serves as an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by those living with obesity, and spurs fresh discussions surrounding the UK’s approach to supporting individuals and delivering meaningful collaborative action, in the interest of public health and patients across the country.

[1] The King’s Fund - Tackling obesity: The role of the NHS in a whole-system approach, pp. 13

[2] The King’s Fund - Tackling obesity: the role of the NHS in a whole-system approach, pp. 2