‘The system will break if we do not tackle obesity,’ says Portsmouth doctor

Obesity is a growing problem
Obesity is a growing problem

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THE obesity epidemic needs tackling now before health services buckle under the pressure.

That’s the stark warning from consultant Dr Partha Kar at Queen Alexandra Hospital who says the increase in obesity numbers in this area has to be tackled to address spiralling costs for the NHS.

It comes as new figures show almost 10 per cent reception-aged children in Portsmouth – 216 pupils aged four to five – are classed as obese under the National Child Measurement Programme, which measures the height and weight of youngsters aged between four and 11.

Worryingly, that figure doubles to 20 per cent of those aged 10 or 11. In Hampshire, 1,769 – or 15 per cent – of pupils in the same age range are classed as obese.

People who are obese cost the NHS £6bn nationally and health authorities face greater pressure from treating overweight people, who are more prone to stroke, heart attacks and other problems.

Councillor Neill Young, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for children and education, said: ‘The child obesity figures are concerning. We have got to think about the long-term health implications and the effect that will have on their lives.

‘The 20 per cent figure just shows the problem is moving through the system.

‘What we have got coming in when it is the new school term is free school meals which will give children a nutritious meal every day.

‘That should help to educate children about the importance of healthy eating.’

Meanwhile, the number of adults diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes – which is largely brought on by unhealthy lifestyles – is also on the increase, with higher numbers of under-40s needing treatment.

Figures from the Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group, which buys in health services for the area, show that in 2011/2012, 8,170 people from south-east Hampshire were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes at QA. Two years later this figure has leapt 10 per cent to 8,983.

Dr Kar says the Portsmouth area must improve these statistics – which are above the UK average.

The diabetic consultant at QA said: ‘Nationally the average age for people to be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes was in their late 40s and early 50s.

‘That’s when you would normally pick it up, but now people in their early 30s are being diagnosed.

‘One reason could be because we are screening more and raising the profile of diabetes to help people.

‘But we need to because, if left to develop, then it causes a lot of organ disease. So it can cause problems for the hands and feet, the eyes, kidneys and increases your chance of having a stroke or heart attack.’

Dr Kar said longer hospital waiting lists and delayed reviews were among potential side-effects of the obesity epidemic’s squeeze on the service.

He said: ‘It means a lot of strain is put on to different specialities. If we don’t tackle this then we are in deep trouble – the system will break.’

To help tackle the problem, Portsmouth City Council’s public health team has devised a healthy weight strategy which promotes a healthy lifestyle by looking at green spaces, transport and travel and healthy food.

Cllr Liz Fairhurst, who is in charge of adult social care and public health at the county council, said: ‘We have implemented a healthy weight strategy and action plan for children.

‘This has included paying for weight management programmes for children and their families who need additional support to help them lose weight, a focus on education in schools and work with parents to enable them to make changes to their children’s physical activity levels and diet.’

A scheme called the Food Partnership has been launched and has a joined-up approach to healthy living.

Defining obesity

There are many ways in which a person’s health in relation to their weight can be classified, but the most widely used method is body mass index (BMI).

BMI is a measure of whether you’re a healthy weight for your height. You can use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your score. For most adults:

- a BMI of 25 to 29.9 means you are considered overweight

- a BMI of 30 to 39.9 means you are considered obese

- a BMI of 40 or above means you are considered severely obese

BMI is not used to definitively diagnose obesity – as people who are very muscular sometimes have a high BMI, without excess fat – but for most people, it can be a useful indication of whether they may be overweight.

A better measure of excess fat is waist circumference, and can be used as an additional measure in people who are overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) or moderately obese (BMI of 30 to 34.9).

Generally, men with a waist of 37in or more and women with a waist circumference of 31.5in or more are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems.

To work out your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres and then divide the answer by your height again.

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