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Anomalies in Response to Britain’s Rising Obesity Rate

Posted Feb 15 2011 4:29pm

The link between obesity and preventable illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer is well documented, but is enough being done to combat this?

Health Campaigns targeting unhealthy lifestyles are rife, yet obesity rates continue to rise.  It is estimated that in England, more than 60% of adults and more than 30% of children are either overweight or obese & this could increase to 9 out of 10 adults and two-thirds of children by 2050.  We are now officially the fattest nation in Europe!

One response to this - according to the BBC – is that every ambulance service in Britain has begun to buy specialist equipment as a direct result of the rising rates of obesity.  Wider stretchers and lifting gear, as well as heavy duty wheelchairs are being installed in standard ambulances to cope with the increasing number of obese patients

The Director of the Ambulance Service Network – Jo Webber - said ambulance bosses had been left with no recourse but to take this action.

“The fact is patients are getting larger and larger and ambulances need to be able to respond immediately to what could be life-threatening situations.

“Every service is having to invest money in this. It shows that some of the lifestyle changes we are seeing have a range of costs. It is not just about treating them, but the infrastructure costs as well.”

Every ambulance service has confirmed the changes, though the scale & timing vary from area to area. As well as changes to standard ambulances, many services have bought what are referred to as specialist ‘bariatric’ ambulances. These are equipped with double-width trolley stretchers suitable for patients weighing up to 50 stone. Hoists and inflatable lifting cushions are also often included. The reported costs to the Health service are phenomenal with stretchers costing between £7,000 and £10,000 & inflatable lifting cushions around £2,500. Reinforcing an ambulance tail-lift costs around £800 for each one!

So – there is one universal & costly response to an ever rising level of obesity, bit it’s a measure to deal with an escalating problem not to combat it. Healthy eating campaigns aside, what is the government actually doing to help the people it represents to have a healthier diet?

Last summer there was disappointment & outrage when the European Parliament appeared to reject recommendations designed to promote better health among consumers, in favour of the interests of the food industry. Consumer & health groups were dismayed at the rejection of the proposals for a colour coded ‘traffic lights’ system which were the result of much research in an attempt to devise a universal & easily understood system.

A further anomaly occurs at the very place people end up for treatment for the illnesses & diseases they end up with - unhealthy eating patterns usually being a major contributory factor – namely our hospitals! Up & down the country patients are served food which is blatantly unhealthy – often the very things NHS public awareness campaigns advise them not to eat! There are no rigorous regulations covering the provision of hospital food & items such as fry-ups, burgers, chips, & ice cream are commonly found on hospital menus across the country with the options for children including chicken nuggets, sausage rolls, fish fingers, pizzas and pasties. There is even a Burger King on site at one well known cardiac unit & vending machines for the purchase of fizzy drinks, crisps & chocolate are widespread! As well as being unhealthy, the food served is often unpalatable, often being outsourced & previously frozen. Very few vegetables make an appearance.

It is possible for NHS trusts to work with the limited budgets they have to cook healthy appetizing meals on the premises made from fresh seasonal produce. Trusts such as the Royal Brompton in London have proved this!

The obvious conclusion to reach is that the government must turn the rhetoric of its public health campaigns into more direct action if the fight against obesity and the battle to improve public health is to be won. The health of the people it purports to represent must take precedence over the interests of the food industry if an escalation of the present crisis is to be averted!



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