15 February 2001
Full report: Tackling Obesity in England
Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, told Parliament today that the prevalence of obesity in England had tripled over the last 20 years and continues to rise. Most adults in England are now overweight, and one in five is obese.
Producing the first authoritative estimates of the costs and consequences of obesity in England, Sir John estimated that obesity accounted for 18 million days of sickness absence and 30,000 premature deaths in 1998. On average, each person whose death could be attributed to obesity lost nine years of life. Treating obesity costs the NHS at least £½ billion a year. The wider costs to the economy in lower productivity and lost output could be a further £2 billion each year.
Sir John recommends that greater effort is placed on establishing an evidence based approach to the problem to enable the NHS to adopt a more consistent approach to the management of obesity. Continued and more extensive joint working across government is also needed, both nationally and locally, to promote long term changes in lifestyles.
NAO research identified wide variation in the way general practices manage overweight and obese patients, and uncertainty about which treatment and referral options are the most effective. Sir John recommends that the Department of Health leads work to clarify the responsibilities of primary care teams for identifying people at risk from excess weight, and to develop and disseminate guidelines on effective treatment programmes.
Sir John identifies substantial and valuable cross-Governmental work to tackle obesity through encouraging physical activity and better diet in schools and the population generally. But the departments involved need to build on their successful joint working to date and involve other national and local partners to develop and implement cohesive approaches aimed at preventing more people from becoming obese. Key recommendations are that:
Sir John commented:
“Nearly two thirds of men and over half of women in England are now overweight or obese. And the problem here is increasing faster than in most other European countries. If prevalence continues to rise at the current rate, more than one in four adults will be obese by 2010. This would significantly increase the incidence of associated diseases, such as coronary heart disease, and would cost the economy over £3.5 billion a year by that date.
“There are no easy solutions to the problem but progress is possible. There is scope to do more to promote healthier lifestyles and improve NHS services for the increasing number of people whose health is at risk from excess weight.”
The five key government departments whose work on diet and physical activity was examined by the National Audit Office were the Department of Health, Food Standards Agency, Department for Education and Employment, Department of the Environment , Transport and the Regions, and Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website at http://www.nao.org.uk/ Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office employing some 750 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.