London, 19th May 2021
The data released by NHS Digital which highlights that one million people living with obesity were admitted to NHS hospitals in 2019/20 reinforces the need for improved support and access to appropriate weight management and obesity services for people living with obesity. Additionally, we believe that the prevalence of obesity in England, is likely to mean that the figure for obesity hospital admissions is an underrepresentation due to reporting issues.
The lack of access to weight management and obesity services is a longstanding issue with a wealth of evidence demonstrating that people living with overweight and obesity may not have suitable services in the region that they live. For instance, less than 50% of people have access to either a tier 3 or 4 weight management service in England and analysis published in the BMJ in 2016 suggests that less than 1% of people have access to bariatric surgery. Improving access can have beneficial long term impacts for people living with obesity and health service resources. Ensuring that people living with overweight and obesity have access to suitable weight management and obesity services, as well as implementing public health policies that can prevent weight gain, will support improved health outcomes and subsequent reductions in the number of people admitted to hospital.
The data shows that women account for higher numbers of hospital admissions, with many female admissions linked to maternal care. This demonstrates a need for healthcare systems to reach women at an earlier stage before the need for hospital admission. The higher female admissions reinforce the evidence that more women seek and receive weight management support, a trend which has been demonstrated consistently for some time. This highlights the continued need to better understand how to engage men in weight management as well as other, often underrepresented, groups of society. This may require a shift in the narrative around obesity which is often stigmatising and has been shown to affect engagement and healthcare seeking behaviour.
We are supportive of the UK Government’s proposed actions as part of the new Obesity Strategy such as supporting the ban on TV and online adverts for food high in salt, sugar and fat before the 9pm watershed, as well as ending ‘buy one, get one free’ deals on these foods. We believe both represent measures that can be effective at population level and will support people regardless of body weight and health status. However, we also believe that further efforts are required to support people living with obesity that go beyond these measures, with access to appropriate services that can support the often wide-ranging and complex needs of people living with obesity being critical.
We believe that taking a whole systems approach to obesity, which is tailored to local needs and works across the life course, and providing greater access to weight management services across all Tiers is required. This is more likely to support government ambitions of reducing the prevalence of obesity and associated health conditions, and positively impact on healthcare services.
The Obesity Policy Engagement Network (OPEN) UK is a partnership programme, bringing together different expertise across obesity to improve obesity care in the UK. Novo Nordisk has fully funded the secretariat of OPEN UK, but has no influence over the group’s activities. Novo Nordisk has had no influence over the content of this statement.
OPEN is a sustained global initiative aiming to achieve national support for improved obesity care.
OPEN is a network for national coalitions of public health, policy, patient representatives and other thought leaders in the field of obesity with representation in over 15 countries including the UK, Italy, Germany and Spain.
OPEN seeks to provide national policy advocates with the opportunity to share diverse perspectives on a common challenge, identify solutions and collaborate to address the current barriers and challenges to effective obesity care.
Through the global network, members obtain insights and tangible tools on how to put in place effective national obesity strategies which deliver workable, effective solutions that successfully address the obesity challenge.
Notes to editors
* Data taken from the Hospital Episode Statistics dataset. Data released by NHS Digital as part of the Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet; England, 2021, an annual compendium of data on obesity, including hospital admissions, prescription items, obesity prevalence among adults and children as well as physical activity and diet.