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NHS statistics

Obesity hospitalisations and operations soar in England

New NHS statistics paint a picture of a fatter and sicker population. Photo: Flickr / TobyOtter
Rates of obesity-related hospitalisations rise precipitiously
British Heart Foundation: "These figures hold a mirror to the state of the country's health"

The number of people admitted to hospital in England due to their obesity has tripled in five years, while the number of publicly-funded bariatric procedures has increased almost ninefold over the same period, according to new government figures.

New data from the NHS Information Centre says that there were 11,736 admissions with a primary diagnosis of obesity in 2011, the most recent year for which data was available. The figure is more than three times higher than the 3,862 admitted in 2006/7, and 11 times higher than 2001/2, when 1,019 were admitted. In every year, almost twice as many women as men were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of obesity.

The report says that 261 bariatric procedures took place under the NHS in 2000/1, increasing dramatically to 1,038 in 2005/6 and 8,794 in 2011/12. However, the report notes that due to changes in the way that procedures are counted in official statistics, the figures before 2006 are not directly comparable to later operations.

In 2011, there were 266,666 admissions that mentioned obesity, either as a primary or secondary diagnosis. Patients admitted with a diagnosis of obesity included admissions for complications of comorbidities directly related to their weight.

While one in five admissions occurred in the London Strategic Health Alliance area, patients were most likely to be admitted to hospital if they lived in the West Midlands, where 56 admissions took place per 100,000 of the population.

Amy Thompson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told the Guardian: “These figures hold a mirror to the state of the country's health – and it is not a flattering reflection. The number of people who are overweight or obese is steadily climbing and unhealthy lifestyle choices are helping us along this path.”

Diane Abbott, the shadow public health minister, blamed the British government’s inaction for the rise in obesity and related hospitalisations, saying: “Campaigners like Jamie Oliver have said this government is a disaster for children's health. But it's made worse because we're seeing a nutritional recession, with rising food prices and shrinking incomes driving up consumption of fatty foods and reducing the amount of fruit and vegetables we buy."

The new figures show that 23.6% of men and 25.9% of women in England were obese in 2011, increasing from 13.2% and 16.4% respectively since 1993. The percentage of overweight people remained steady over the period, at 40% for men and 30% for women.

An NHS physician told Bariatric News that while the huge increase in obesity-related admissions was due in large part to the heavier population, it was also due to a greater number of admissions being coded as obesity-related. “We’re just more aware of it now,” she said.

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