27.05.2024

How obesity is draining the NHS of billions of much-needed cash every year

Britain’s bulging waistline is stripping billions of pounds from the each year with twice as much spent on obese patients than those of a healthy weight, a landmark study has revealed.

Costs per patient rise drastically the more people weigh, as they ‘collect obesity-related conditions’ such as type 2 , and heart disease, according to research involving nearly 2.5million people.

The findings lay bare the enormous strain of obesity on NHS finances – suggesting the health service would stand to gain up to £13.7 billion annually if people maintained a healthy weight.

And experts believe the full cost to the economy is far greater still, once days lost to obesity-related illness is factored in.

Imperial College London researchers tracked 2.4million adults in North-West London for a decade, analysing how many hospital admissions, GP appointments, and prescriptions they needed each year.

Britain’s bulging waistline is stripping billions of pounds from the NHS each year with twice as much spent on obese patients than those of a healthy weight

Britain's bulging waistline is stripping billions of pounds from the NHS each year with twice as much spent on obese patients than those of a healthy weight

One million patients, who were a healthy weight with a body mass index (BMI) of 18 to 25, were calculated to cost the NHS an average of £638 each in 2019, the final year of the study.

By comparison, severely obese patients with a BMI of 40 and above cost more than double — at £1,375 annually.

Meanwhile the NHS spent £979 a year on obese patients with a BMI of 30 to 35, which increased to £1,178 a year for those with a BMI of 35-40.

Overall, 400,002 patients were classed as obese, with another one million classed as overweight but not obese, with a BMI of 25 to 30.

Those who were overweight cost on average £756 a year — 19 per cent more than those who were healthy.

Dr Jonathan Pearson-Stuttard, a public health scientist based at Imperial College London and head of health analytics at the LCP consultancy who led the study, said it was the first of this scale to calculate costs based on BMI.

It found as weight increased through the BMI categories, use of healthcare resources also rose incrementally with hospital admissions ‘by far the biggest cost to the NHS’.

Much of the increased spending was not on obesity itself, but on treating conditions linked to it including heart disease, arthritis, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

‘These costs are not just from living with obesity, but all the different conditions it results in — such as heart disease, stroke and back pain. People collect more and more obesity-related conditions over time,’ he said.

‘We know obesity can cause a range of hospitalisations including heart attacks, stroke, heart failure. It also increases the risk of cancers.

‘The ill-health and costs associated with obesity compound over time. Not only is that impacting individual health, but also costs to the NHS and the economic workforce.’

Participants were followed for a decade, with their weight measured when they enrolled. The costs associated with obesity increased significantly over the ten-year period, as patients’ health deteriorated. For the most severely obese patients, costs increased by 34 per cent in this time.

Latest NHS data shows 26 per cent of adults in England are obese and a further 38 per cent are overweight but not obese.

It suggests that when at the peak of treatment, 28.1million people with a high BMI could cost the NHS £23.8bn annually, compared to £10.1bn spent on those who are a healthy weight.

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