Welsh NHS faces growing obesity problem

Over half the population of Wales is overweight and close to 1 in 4 Welsh adults are now clinically obese. New figures have also been released revealing the deteriorating picture, with 26 per cent of children now classed as obese, more than any English region and the English average of 23 per cent. The study also found that over 80 per cent of past testers were still obese, suggesting that children do not simply grow out of it. Doctors have in recent years voiced their concerns that the Welsh Government isn’t taking the issue seriously. Wales is facing an obesity crisis and the NHS struggles under increased demand.

Dr Nadim Haboubi,who runs the only weight management clinic funded by the Welsh NHS, has made repeated warnings concerning these rising levels.

In a BBC interview three years ago Dr Haboubi went so far as to say that the problem was “huge, massive, worse than England, worse than anywhere in the UK and among the worst in the western world”. Dr Haboubi, along with other experts, points to several reasons for this crisis including inequality and high levels of unemployment. Public Health Wales figure have backed up this stance, showing obesity reached 28.5 per cent in the most deprived areas, compared to 22.2 per cent in the least deprived areas. Haboubi also launched an attack on the services provided by the NHS Wales, most of which can be traced to a severe lack of funding.

The Welsh Institute of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery, based at Morriston Hospital in Swansea operates on just 50 people per year despite around 5,000 people meeting the criteria for bariatric surgery (such as gastric banding or gastric bypasses).

In England a patient would need a BMI of 35 with related health problems (such as diabetes) or 40 without to receive bariatric surgery, whereas a Welsh patient would need a BMI of 50 with related problems. Patients in Wales are losing out, and can only be operated on once they are already in poor health.

Haboubi sees a reluctance to adequately tackle the problem by the Welsh Government due to lack of resources. “It’s all down to money. There’s hardly any surgery done in Wales because of resources. Yes, it’s costly, but treating it now is going to be a long-term saving of money. If you deal with obesity you deal with problems like diabetes, coronary heart disease”. Past studies carried out by Swansea University and funded by the Welsh Government found that obesity costs the NHS in Wales roughly £73 million a year.

Local government officials and health experts have expressed their concern at the effect the introduction of spending cuts to council leisure services will have in combatting this crisis, as ensuring these services for children will restrict inflating figures. In response Welsh government spokespeople have insisted that the government remains committed reducing obesity by encouraging healthier diets and physical exercise.