Obesity costs the UK economy almost £47bn per year according to a report by McKinsey and Company. That’s more than the cost of armed violence, war and terrorism and local authorities shoulder a large part of the burden.
Counting the cost
The NHS spends over £13bn a year on diabetes and £6bn a year on treating other conditions associated with being overweight or obese. For councils, social care costs are equally worrying. Statistics published by Public Health England (PHE) last year suggest that local authorities spend £353m a year on formal care for severely obese people.
Over 3.5m children are now classified as overweight or obese and if action isn’t taken then the problem, and its associated costs, are likely to worsen. Estimates suggest that the number of people with obesity could double over the next 40 years, stretching healthcare budgets to breaking point.
Making informed choices
In its latest announcement, the Local Government Association (LGA) has called on pubs, restaurants and cinemas to take responsibility for their part in the problem by prominently displaying calorie count signs on menus and counters. The idea being to increase public awareness and help people make informed choices.
A similar scheme has proved hugely successful in the USA, and particularly in New York City where restaurants have embraced the idea, however, this alone won’t be enough to tackle the challenge of obesity. PHE chief nutritionist Dr. Alison Tedstone acknowledges:
''Obesity is a complex problem which requires action across individual and societal levels involving industry, national and local government and the voluntary sector.”
That’s why the LGA is also calling for £1bn of existing VAT revenue to be passed to councils to fund preventative schemes and help obese people lose weight through initiatives like weight management services, exercise referral schemes and reduced-cost sport and leisure activities.
While a government focused on reducing the deficit may baulk at a £1bn project targeting obesity, the economic argument seems to stack up.
Previous research shows that every £1 spent on physical activity or subsidised leisure programme can save almost £23 on health problems, and that’s just a small part of the potential savings that can be made when tackling obesity.
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