SERIES: Part 4 – Consequences of Rising Incidence of Obesity in the United Kingdom

In my opinion, the consequences of increasing incidence of obesity fall into four key dimensions: individual, societal, structural and economic.

 

This is Part 4 of my Obesity in the UK series. If you missed Parts 1, 2, or 3 – mainly dealing with the causal factors of obesity – you can find them by following the links. 🙂 This part addresses consequences of rising obesity in the UK. And it is the penultimate article in this series.

I try to keep this blog relatively positive (despite the subject matter). Thus, the final article will deal with ‘solutions’ and a bit of a discussion about the previous articles. So, here goes.

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  1. Individual Consequences of Rising obesity

The consequences of obesity as they affect individuals in the UK are primarily health related. In the United Kingdom, the National Health Service (NHS) means that government funded free healthcare is available to all – alongside a far smaller private sector. The consequences I discuss here are largely those that affect the quality of life of obese individuals.

Of particular concern is the number of disability adjusted life years (DALYs) that obese individuals face as opposed to normal weight individuals.

Obese individuals with a co-morbid condition also incur a greater cost both to health services and the individual in terms of time. Furthermore, T2DM, for example can reduce life expectancy by up to 10 years.

 

Amongst other major risk factors are an array of Cardiovascular diseases including stroke, arthritis, gallbladder disease, OSAS (Obstructive Sleep Apnoea) and infertility.

Despite lower levels of overall obesity, women were found to have significantly higher levels of “very high waist circumference”; 44% compared with 34% in men, suggesting a risk that members of this group may progress towards obesity or the development of a comorbid condition.

Encouragingly, even modest weight loss, has been shown to have an effect on improving other co-morbid conditions associated with obesity, including diabetes.

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Nonetheless, some of these conditions are fatal. Thus, many obese patients face the risk of a shorter, lower quality life than the general population as a result of their obese status.

Moreover, childhood obesity is of particular concern as it has been shown to have immediate and long-term detrimental effects to health.

A societal effect of increased incidence of obesity is the potential for further increased incidence of obesity. People evaluate themselves compared to those around them. One study found that even having obese friends increases an individual’s likelihood of progression to obesity. This causes a shift in societal perception of normal: thus a vicious cycle of increased obesity.

 

2. Structural Factors – Industry and marketing

A consequence of rising obesity is the potential for more stringent measures on the food and beverage industry. In 2014, New York mayor, Bill De Blasio proposed a portion cap on sugary beverages. In the UK, lawmakers have proposed various reforms and restrictions on the food industry, such as taxes on certain foods.

Some argue that introducing a tax on typically unhealthy foods, may cause some groups, particularly teenagers, to reduce their consumption. Nonetheless, it may also have an unintended detrimental effect on the lowest income individuals, making food too expensive.

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3. Economic Cost to Health Services

 

The economic burden of disease of overweight and obesity is huge. It is estimated that the direct cost to the National Health Service (NHS) in 2007 was £3.2 billion. This is an almost three-fold increase from £1.1bn in 2004, which was already more than twice the £480 million in 1998.

Unsurprisingly, if the growing proportion of healthcare spending on obesity follows this trend it may soon be unaffordable, resulting in an insurmountable burden on national health services.

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4. Cost to Society

More easily overlooked is the cost of productivity lost by individuals who can no longer work due to their obese status and associated conditions.

This could have a massive impact on the economic climate in the UK as it can severely augment the number of tax payers in years to come whilst incurring greater cost to health and social services.

The consequences on the British economy could be profound, particularly due to the nation’s ageing, and comparatively older population. Furthermore, fiscal interventions to increase government spending on health and social services by increasing taxes could lead to a slowdown in consumer spending and a ripple effect on the broader economy.

 

In my opinion, the burden and cost of the consequences of obesity justify the need for the United Kingdom to aspire to meet its own targets and those set by the World Health Assembly. But further investigation may aid a better understanding – from a behavioural economics and behavioural medicine perspective of the kind of interventions that might prove beneficial. 

 

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