Innovating Healthcare: Obesity Awareness

In recognition of National Obesity Awareness Week, we partnered with thought leaders across the NHS, civil society and life sciences to discuss obesity and improvement to care pathways.

In the most recent episode of Innovating Healthcare, Chamber UK called attention to another national crisis – Obesity. The session was chaired by former Deputy National Medical Director at NHS England, Professor Mike Bewick. The discussion included three highly qualified panellists who brought their experience to enlighten us concerning the disease, its impact and potential solutions.

The panellists for the session included:

The discussion focused on the social determinants of obesity, the wide ranging stigma around the health issue and potential solutions to improve health outcomes.

An ‘obesity’ pandemic

Starting the conversation, Professor Barbara McGowan gave an overview of the health issue, noting that around two-thirds of the UK have an issue with obesity and weight and that this prevalence is increasing. The issue of obesity is causing a knock on effect to other therapeutic conditions, such as cardiovascular and mental health. She noted the UK is “twenty or thirty years behind” other health systems in dealing with obesity and providing specialist services.

Sarah Le Brocq explained there are numerous factors that exist which are stopping people living with obesity from receiving support. There is significant stigma around obesity across society that dissuades patients from reaching out to healthcare professional in seeking help. Even if patients do seek support, the needed services are simply not available to improve population health. Influencing this narrative and improving access is at the core of her work at All About Obesity CIC. On Professor Bewick’s question if the narrative is starting to change, Le Brocq noted that some regions are seeing more improvement but there is still a long way to go in this area.

Fernando Campo emphasised that the social determinants and regional inequalities must be considered in dealing Obesity. He explained that men in the most deprived areas of the UK are eight percent more likely to be obese, jumping to 17 percent for women in those areas. Holistic management services and effective care pathways are therefore essential to improve population health, which the life sciences industry would be willing to partner on.

On Professor Bewick’s question if the correct training exists at the undergraduate and postgraduate level for healthcare professionals, Professor McGowan explained there is little training currently and the syllabus has competing demands from a wide range of therapeutic areas. Given the impact of obesity on further disease areas, education for clinicians is needed to foster the holistic approach.

Economic cost of the condition

Professor Bewick noted the original funding for obesity had been scrapped recently, cutting £100 million for obesity services which had been pledged to improve population health. On the wider societal and economic cost of obesity, Professor McGowan there are cost-effective interventions such as barometric surgery and managing type-2 diabetes. Providing a holistic approach to the cost would show these interventions saving money for the NHS in the future. Le Brocq added the need to examine how food companies may be contributing to the issue, and the difference in diet across regions in the UK. She also explained the importance of balancing prevention with treatment, one without the other is not going to improve the health issue.

Policy improvements

On potential policy developments which could improve population health, Fernando Campo noted the need for clear referral pathways which would make a meaningful impact on obesity. Professor McGowan asked “for obesity to be recognised as a chronic disease, and to be made a priority” across the new ICS landscape. She added the need for digital technology to be scaled across the country.

Sarah Le Brocq stressed the need for patient centricity, tackling the social stigma and providing the support that patients need to lead healthier lives.

Final thought

The discussion from thought leaders in obesity provided incredible insights into the state of the problem, the wide ranging determinants, and potential solutions to improve population health and reduce inequalities. The panel agreed that the moving obesity away the stigma that exists into a recognised chronic disease was essential to make progress for patients.

Given the Government’s U-turn on obesity services and general state of NHS and social care in the UK, the outlook for obesity admittedly looks rather bleak. However, improving innovative practices and a holistic approach could make a marked difference in the short-term.

To watch the episode, see below:

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