"Obesity isn't a choice patients make, and the solution isn't simply diet and exercise. Empathetic, compassionate support is available, and it can make a real difference."
Dr Vijayaraman Arutchelvam, clinical lead for healthy weight and treating obesity.
As a diabetes and endocrinology specialist, I know that patients with weight-related problems haven't always had the support they deserve and have sometimes been unfairly judged for their condition. That injustice stoked the passion in me to make a difference to these patients' lives.
With 30,000 deaths annually, obesity is an epidemic. Almost two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese – and the rate has almost doubled since the 90s. Nearly a third of children are obese before they're 15. If you're obese you have a higher risk of cancer, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. It can affect your self-esteem and mental health – and it's likely to cost you nine years of life.
I've heard from around 10,000 patients with weight-related problems. Patients with obesity suffer a much more detrimental impact on their physical, mental and social health than those with other chronic conditions. I had one 39-year-old patient with morbid obesity, hospitalised for 342 days, who died of complications of obesity. This had a major impact on me. I felt that the right support much earlier in this patient's journey could have prevented her death. By contrast, I've seen a patient arrive in clinic on a wheelchair, then achieve significant weight reduction and send me a photograph after scaling Roseberry Topping. I've also had patients declined transplant surgery because of their weight. With support to lose weight they had successful transplants and their lives back. Weight loss can reverse obesity-related conditions, increasing patients' quality of life and lifespan.
The NHS spends around £6 billion a year on obesity-related illnesses. For many complex reasons, obesity hits our most deprived communities the hardest. It's not simply a matter of food and exercise. Obesity is caused by multiple factors including lifestyle, environment, societal factors, and deprivation. Obesity is not a choice; it is a chronic, multi-system, recurrent metabolic disorder that requires support from medical teams.
The best way forward is for our whole system to work together to prevent and treat obesity. Along with our colleagues at NHS England, we welcome everyone to join us in championing the best possible help for people with weight-related problems. It's an important part of the North East and North Cumbria integrated care strategy, which aims to help more adults, children and young people to a healthy weight. We're already making progress, with an extra £1 million invested in weight management services – and a strong focus on helping the most deprived patients and communities.
Our first step was a detailed study, so we now know where need is greatest, which communities are most affected, and where services most need strengthening.
We're also very keen to develop systems to help prevent obesity, helping schools, workplaces, and hospitals become places where it's easier to make healthy choices. We can make sure support is offered to patients most at risk of obesity-related diseases, using behavioural science to choose the right language and make the offer in the best way. Over 8,000 patients have already been referred to our digital weight management programme, and we hope to help many more through this and the wider range of services.
The stigma attached to obesity is disheartening but we can challenge it. People with obesity deserve the same high standard of healthcare as any patient with a long-term condition, and it is our mission to deliver exactly that.
Read more about how the ICB is working to tackle obesity. If you or someone you know is suffering from obesity-related problems, your GP can signpost you to appropriate support.