Talk of an obesity crisis in the UK is nothing new. We've seen for decades that the number of people outside of the 'healthy weight' parameters is on the rise and medics have been warning of the dangers for years - so is a new approach needed?
I have a strong personal interest in health promotion so I was interested to read this month's new guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on obesity. It highlights the importance of encouraging patients to make long-term lifestyle changes in a 'respectful' and 'non-blaming' way. Crucially, it stresses that there is no 'quick fix' remedy for people to lose their unwanted weight - it takes commitment and perseverance.
I couldn't agree more - but the scale of the challenge is daunting. According to the latest statistics, more than one in four adults in England is obese, with the number of 'morbidly obese' adults said to have doubled in the last 20 years to more than a million people. Illness linked to obesity now costs the NHS more than £5 billion a year, with suggestions that this could continue to rise by a staggering £2 billion a year based on the trends we are seeing.
Playing medical roulette with your weight
With such a large proportion of the population now overweight, I think a big part of the problem is that for many people it may feel like the norm if their friends, loved-ones or peers are in a similar situation. Like lots of things in life, when we see others behaving in the same way, we can become desensitised to the danger we may be putting ourselves in.
I know from my own surgeries that many aren't aware of the health risks associated with being significantly overweight. Obesity can reduce life expectancy by nine years on average, with increased risk of chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Carrying additional weight can raise your blood pressure and also puts added strain on your joints, which can lead to the development of arthritis - a condition that's affecting people at an increasingly young age.
No 'one-size-fits-all' solution
It's been predicted that half of the population could be clinically obese by 2050. But tackling the problem isn't easy and losing weight can be one of the hardest things for an individual to do. It takes commitment and results aren't going to happen overnight.
The first step is awareness: some patients don't realise they fall within the category of 'obese' - which is generally those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of more than 30.
This needs to be followed by a personal conviction to make the necessary lifestyle changes and seeking support if they need it.
For some, weight can be an embarrassing subject to talk about too. Thousands of patients have chosen to consult the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service about weight concerns, rather than seeing a GP face-to-face. In an independent national survey we commissioned, one in ten people said they would feel embarrassed to talk to someone about weight problems.
The best course of action depends on the individual. Some find it beneficial to attend a weight-loss support group, others prefer to follow a diet and exercise plan by themselves, and in certain cases Orlistat prescription treatment may be used in conjunction with lifestyle changes. Gastric band surgery has also become much more prevalent over recent years.
Looking to the future
Obesity rates are escalating to unprecedented levels and there's no quick or easy solution. Although the new NICE guidance on lifestyle weight management services is yet to be finalised, it's clear that blaming an individual or indeed society for the situation is fruitless.
What's important is providing the help and support that's needed now, as well as promoting healthy lifestyles for future generations.