The Cost of Obesity

Ilona Burton

£4.2 billion is spent on obesity every year by the NHS. Pretty huge. This astonishing amount of money is spent on gastric bypass operations, stomach stapling, jaw wiring, cosmetic surgery and medications for diabetes, high blood pressure and numerous other problems brought on by living lazily on a diet of, well, crap. Obesity 1388091c 300x187 The Cost of Obesity

Today, whilst lazing around eating a similarly unhealthy diet, I read about a mother, husband and son with a combined weight of 76 stone who have cost the NHS a staggering £1.2million. Between them, the Jones’ family have had two gastric bypass operations, used tens of thousands of pounds worth of medication for diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnoea and they are due to add to the current cost with a skin removal operation and a stomach stapling operation on their 15-year-old son.

What’s scary is that this isn’t all that uncommon, hence the government now calling for a new approach to tackling obesity more cheaply, although from what I’ve read, that means passing responsibility onto employers. Yay for ’schemes’.

Understandably, tax payers will frown and moan and be angry about just how much of their money is going towards tablets for obese people who continue to eat over 10,000 calories a day. It goes without saying really, and this could easily have been a blog where I, too, stand on my ‘healthy weight’ pedestal and join in with the haters.

But then, I’m not at a healthy weight and I too, have had thousands of the NHS budget spent on my own treatment, again a result of a bad relationship with food.

Us Brits love to complain about where our taxes are going, who they’re helping or not helping, which useless buildings or schemes are made possible by our money and most of all, that many of the people this money is spent on do not ‘deserve’ it. The NHS spends billions on treating obesity, drug addicts and smoking and alcohol related illnesses and we have developed an immediate reaction to turn our nose up at anyone who, on the surface, seem undeserving of treatment; those who “brought it on themselves”. I think we are too quick to jump to this conclusion and it worries me that those who actually do take it for granted that they can sit on their fat arses and do nothing about their worsening state of health will be the ones we all think of when costs like this come into the spotlight. We tar every fat person with the same presumptuous brush.

What I have noticed though, is that all other areas where a problem is commonly seen as ‘their own fault’, have more preventative help in place – more importantly, and more glaringly obvious to me, is that there is always psychological help or support for those with alcohol or drug addictions, easy access courses for those wanting to stop smoking and counselling services for those with Anorexia or Bulimia who are deemed not serious enough to need inpatient treatment. There is something for all of these problems that can help to treat a problem before it becomes extremely costly to the NHS, and to us.

Of course, there are companies and schemes out there that offer help and support to people suffering with obesity, but after looking on the NHS website pages on obesity, all they suggest for obesity treatment is diet and exercise. Nothing else, nada. You may agree that diet and exercise are all that matter and that if they put their mind to it, any obese person has it in them to adapt their lifestyle, lose weight and become healthy. Just like that. But surely if it was that easy, we wouldn’t be going through the same problems that we are now; surely those being told that they are eating their way to an early grave would think again and those on the borderline between obese and morbidly obese would choose to stay on the safer side. Life is just not that simple; in the world of weight problems, it is quite the opposite.

Let’s make it more simple… overeating is something people do for a reason. Fattening foods are comfort foods – they provide something to people who need to feel better in the short term and for many, a hit of fats, carbohydrates and sugar will serve that purpose. Once the mind establishes that food equals feeling better, it will begin to crave either food itself, or possibly even the act of concentrating purely on ramming food into the mouth, devouring, indulging, cramming and stuffing. This is more than just greed. For someone to become morbidly obese, I think it takes something much deeper, much more psychological than a mere misunderstanding of nutrition and an aversion to exercise. There is a source to every problem.

Unlike drug, alcohol and smoking addictions, which we all know are detrimental to our health, eating addictions, or ‘behaviours’ as they are often referred to, cannot simply be ‘given up’. You can take yourself away from, and learn to live without crack or coke or caffeine, but you cannot simply give up food to fix an addiction. It is much more complex and that is why I think where the government and the NHS are slipping up is by not providing any psychological help to those who are overweight and obviously have a problem with over-eating. Surely it would be far cheaper to provide counselling, psychological help, advice and support for people in this position BEFORE they start off their list of consequential health problems and demanding gastric bands or whatever other £10-20,000 operations they can be led to believe they need “because there are no other options”. Telling somebody with Binge Eating Disorder to up their exercise and “eat more healthily” is like telling an Anorexic to rest up and “have a burger” – it just doesn’t work. Ignorance personified.

I believe that nobody chooses to be morbidly obese, having to use sticks or even a wheelchair to get around and not having the energy to work in the same way that nobody chooses to be so afraid of weight gain that they starve themselves until they’re skeletal or puke their guts up however many times a day. Whenever I read about obesity, I draw so many parallels with what I have been through and how I have felt throughout my years living with both Anorexia and Bulimia and I can’t help feeling that that is overlooked far too often by those who should really understand it the most. If the government want the NHS to spend less on expensive operations and medications to tackle obesity, they really should try to understand that there is something driving this unhealthy addiction to food. Treat the source of the problem – the mind, the self esteem, the confidence – in conjunction with educating about nutrition and going for lovely walks in the country, then and only then, we might get somewhere.

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  • Bill

    Perhaps the key you are looking for lies in the advertising for these foods and the changing composition of them. A person will eat fewer slices of pie if they have to make it from scratch.

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