Surgeon warns obesity has become the new ‘normal’ as rates above national average in Portsmouth

PLUMP patients have kept the city’s obesity rates nearly double the national average – with a senior surgeon warning it has become the new ‘normal’

Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 4:21 pm
Updated Wednesday, 29th May 2019, 5:21 pm
An expert has warned that obesity is becoming normalised - as it has been revealed that obesity-related hospital admissions, where it is a primary cause, are well above the national average Picture: Shutterstock

According to statistics from NHS Digital, the Portsmouth council area saw 36 admissions to hospital per 100,000 people for issues directly related to obesity.

The average for England is 20 in 100,000 people. In the south of England the rate plummets to just 16 in 100,000.

Portsmouth’s latest figures are a slight drop from 2016/17 but Nick Carter, clinical lead for emergency and bariatric surgery at Queen Alexandra Hospital, warned obesity was becoming the new ‘normal’ with parents not recognising it in their children early enough.

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In response to the figures a senior public health official has said work is underway to keep children active - and an academic from the University of Portsmouth said individuals cannot be responsible alone and government must play its part.

Mr Carter told The News he considers obesity a ‘demographic ticking time bomb’. - and after six years as a consultant and 20 twenty years as a qualified doctor, he has watched obesity levels rise.

He said: ‘Huge medical problems such as diabetes are becoming more and more common, and we don’t always recognise when we’re putting on weight.

‘Just an extra 20 calories per day would make someone put on a kilogram over a year. If you eat one digestive biscuit a day for a year, you’d put on half a stone.’

Even if people notice themselves becoming obese, they may be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help as their BMIs creep up. Mr Carter dubs it the ‘last bastion of prejudice’, given general stigmas against obesity.

He added: ‘We don’t see ourselves as obese.

‘We’ve all shifted perceptions and we only see extremes in the media. A little obesity looks normal and parents are unlikely to recognise it in their children - it looks like they’ve grown up.’

As reported, in both 2017 and 2018 there were calls for action when figures showed levels of obesity in Portsmouth schoolchildren was on the rise.

Latest figures for Hampshire show admission rates are below the average for England. Despite a high admission rate the actual number of admissions from the Portsmouth council area was 70 in 2017/18 - 25 men and 45 women.

Data broken down by clinical commissioning groups - groups of clinicians who hold the purse strings for NHS funding - show fewer admissions than the national average in Fareham and Gosport.

But in South East Hampshire’s CCG area - covering Havant - the rate of admission for directly-related obesity issues is 29 in 100,000 people.

Dr Paul Gorczynski from the University of Portsmouth said you ‘can’t push-up your way out of obesity’.

The senior lecturer in the Sport and Exercise Science Department said local and national government must do more so individuals can tackle their obesity.

This includes better housing provision, safer streets to exercise in, reducing childhood poverty and boosting job security, he said.

Dr Gorczynski said: ‘Tackling obesity is not a matter of doing a few more push ups or eating a little bit less. You can’t push-up your way out of obesity.’

He added: ‘This is something that requires a (different) approach, something that is outside of unfortunately most people’s responsibility for themselves - this requires policy, not only locally but on the (national) government.

Figures from NHS Digital highlight concerns that people are not seeking help with their obesity until it becomes a serious health issue.

The number of people admitted to hospital in Portsmouth with obesity as either a primary or secondary factor was lower than the national average at a rate of 1,258 in 100,000. In England the rate was 1,323 in 100,000 people.

This suggests that people are not seeking help with obesity until related issues such as heart attacks, diabetes or strokes need treatment.

Dr Jason Horsley, director of public health at Portsmouth City Council, said that the council supports initiatives such as the Daily Mile in schools and encouraging children to walk to school.

‘We have a range of activity that promotes a healthy weight through eating well and being active,’ he said.

‘For example, we have our Wellbeing Service which provides one-on-one or group weight management support.

‘The council runs a free healthy walks programme, which takes place throughout the week at different locations across the city, and we support national campaigns such as the brisk walking app Active 10 and Be Sugar Smart.’

Together with Mr Carter and Dr Gorczynski he also called on government to do more. Dr Horsley said: ‘I would encourage further initiatives from central government to ensure that we can incentivise providers to produce and offer healthy food in all settings.

‘Ultimately to shift the balance to people living healthier lifestyles we need to make it easy for people to make better choices around diet and exercise.’