There is “inadequate” provision to treat obese patients in the NHS and staff themselves should be given dietary advice, according to a report.
Medical experts said the healthcare system must adapt to meet the needs of “bulging Britain” after the new report found that services to manage obesity are “poorly developed”.
Even though the rate of obesity in the UK is among the highest in the world, the health service’s response to the problem is “patchy”, according to the Royal College of Physicians report.
The report, titled Action on obesity: Comprehensive care for all, also claimed that too many doctors and nurses were seriously overweight and setting a bad example to the people they are trying to treat.
About a quarter of UK adults are obese and it is estimated that the majority of the population will be obese by 2050.
The cost of dealing with the problem has been estimated to be £5bn every year - a figure which will rise alongside the number of obese Britons.
In many patients, their obesity leads to other complications such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, sleep disorders and gynaecological disorders, the authors said. But despite this there are few “joined-up” services for people who are overweight.
The authors recommend a “systematic review” of specialist obesity services. They said that multi-disciplinary teams made up of physicians, surgeons, nurses and other health professionals must be available to cover severe and complex obesity throughout the UK.
They said there should be a lead physician for obesity at each hospital, and called for better training for NHS staff and more research into obesity.
The government should appoint an independent obesity champion to co-ordinate strategy across ministerial departments which could be involved in tackling the epidemic, the authors continued.
They added that education in obesity and nutrition is “inadequately represented” in current medical education, which should be addressed.
It is estimated that 700,000 NHS employees are obese, but only 15% are seen or assessed.
The report said that an audit of London primary care trusts showed that few had policies targeting broad health issues, with workplace health initiatives tending to be reactive and concentrating on recovery after illness rather than actively promoting health and wellbeing.
It wants this to be changed and said doctors and nurses should be given dietary advice and there should be clear targets for reducing obesity among staff.
Professor John Wass, academic vice-president of the RCP, said: “Britain is getting bigger and whilst we try to prevent the increase in obesity, we must also prepare the NHS for the influx of patients presenting with severe complex obesity.
“A patient may arrive at my hospital with coronary heart disease, but if the root cause of their condition is obesity, we must be equipped to deal with that root cause.”
Professor Nick Finer, co-author of the report and obesity specialist, said: “We need to see improved leadership on obesity at every level, from the appointment of a lead physician in every trust to the creation of a cross-governmental role.”
Professor Lindsey Davies, president of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health, said: “The only way we will ever tackle the problems caused by obesity is by everyone working together.
“Obesity is not only caused by how much we each eat or drink: if tackling it were as simple as telling people to eat less and move more, we would have solved it by now.
“Our chances of being obese are also affected by factors like whether we have easy access to affordable fruit, veg and other healthy foods, and if it is safe to let our kids play outside.
“That’s why if governments focus on personal choice alone it is, at best, a red herring and, at worst, a dereliction of duty for everyone’s health.”
Robert Houtman, trustee of the Obesity Management Association, said: “There is an urgent need to address this ever-increasing cost to our society.
“Rather than an over-reliance on the creaking NHS, individuals must take personal responsibility for their own weight.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We are committed to tackling obesity and are taking action to help people keep a healthy weight and prevent them needing hospital care for obesity-related conditions.
“The medical profession has a key role in providing advice and treatment to people who are overweight or obese and the Royal College of Physicians can help its members do this.”
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