Monday, September 27, 2010

Obesity Costs

Again I find myself posting about obesity, after seeing two new stories about how much cash is being spent trying to cope with this weighty problem. Britain is the fattest nation in Europe. Scotland has the second worst obesity rate in the world (waddling in just behind the US). Scottish hospitals have spent thousands of pounds purchasing specialist beds which can take patients weighing up to 78 stone. Meanwhile, new guidance from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence says the NHS should pay fat people to lose weight.

You would think the penny would have dropped by now. Obesity costs. Not just the bizarre, tabloid-friendly examples I just cited, but the massive routine costs of obesity-related ill-health: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and a whole host of other diseases that are caused or worsened by obesity - gallstones, arthritis, hypertension, back pain, stroke, infertility, joint problems. I could go on, but I think you get the general idea.

Wouldn't it be great instead if obesity could be prevented? Well, it can, by encouraging people to lead more active lifestyles. It would be a good idea to start with the younger generation, given that habits learned in childhood tend to stick. You could get children to cycle to school. That would have the side benefit of reducing school-run traffic, hence saving some of the much-trumpeted costs of congestion. The reason the rate of children cycling to school is actually going down, is the lack of safe cycle routes. Parents don't want their kids cycling on roads with dangerous traffic. This is easily solved, of course: putting safe cycle routes to schools in place is not hard to do.

But the government, it seems, are scared of the tabloid and motor lobby-led anti-cycling agenda. They would rather spend our money on extra-strong beds. They would rather see fat children growing into fat adults who die early from fat-related diseases.


  1. A lot of the problem is how the beans are counted. Each department counts their own beans and unless they have the vision, foresight or guts to think about the bigger picture they will fight to protect only those beans.

    So, the NHS will quite happily cure issues with looking after obese people because it has to use it's own beans for that.

    Putting in infrastructure that might prevent obesity? Well, that's the DfT's beans!

  2. It is a shame that the DfT doesn't have to pay some of its beans to the NHS for facilitating obesity through car-centric road development and the marginalisation of walking and cycling. The DfT even has a scheme aimed directly at young children teaching them that walking and cycling are dangerous and that adults aren't at all responsible for killing them on the roads.