New research highlights economic impacts of obesity and calls for policy ‘turning point’

New report highlights the economic and NHS impact of rising obesity rates and calls for ‘turning point’ in Government approach

  • New analysis from the Future Health Research Centre reveals the impact of obesity rates on the economy. The research finds a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head difference between local authorities with the lowest and highest obesity rates outside of London of £9,765 per head
  • None of the local authorities with the highest rates of obesity have an above average rate of GDP per head. Areas include parts of the North West such as Wigan, Blackpool, Knowsley and the North East such as Hartlepool, Durham and Middlesborough all of which record over 70% of their populations as either overweight or obese
  • The research also sets out the difficulties facing the NHS where hospital admissions for obesity are rising. The NHS in the Midlands faces the greatest challenge with new Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) covering the Black Country; Shropshire, Telford and Wrekin; Northamptonshire; Staffordshire and Stoke having the highest recorded obesity rates. By contrast the five ICSs with the lowest rates are all in London
  • The report calls for an independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) study on the economic and health impacts of obesity, new taxes to fund services, an integrated cross government strategy, new campaigns to tackle stigma and greater international collaboration on research and policy development

New research from Future Health, a health policy research centre, reveals the economic and NHS impacts of rising obesity rates across England: Turning point- the case for new action in tackling obesity in England FINAL

The analysis, led by former Special Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care Richard Sloggett and commissioned by Ethicon, the Surgical Technologies company of Johnson & Johnson MedTech, finds that local authorities with the highest rates of obesity have the lowest rates of GDP per head (£24,214). By contrast local authorities with the lowest rates of obesity, outside London, have the highest rates of GDP per head (£33,979). This represents a difference of £9,765 per head

None of the 24 local authorities with the highest rates of obesity in England have a GDP per head above the national average. This includes a number of areas where GDP rates are well below the average figure of £28,810 including Hartlepool (£18,728), Wigan (£18,763), Barnsley (18,749), Sefton (£18,540), Walsall (£18,375) and Tameside (£18,197).


The impact of obesity on employment is also highlighted. Hartlepool, Middlesborough, Blackpool, Wirral, Kingston upon Hull and Sandwell are all ranked in the top 20 local authorities both for obesity rates and their recorded proportion of workless households.


The NHS is also facing significant pressure from rising obesity rates. The number of hospital admissions with a primary or secondary diagnosis of obesity has risen seven fold in the last ten years. The research identifies the areas of the NHS facing the biggest challenge from obesity. All four ICSs with the highest rates of obesity are in the Midlands: Black Country; Shropshire, Telford, Wrekin; Northamptonshire; Staffordshire and Stoke. By contrast all five ICSs with the lowest rates are in London.


With record numbers of GP appointments being recorded, the research also identifies 11 systems with higher obesity rates and higher number of GP appointments per head of population. These include Humber and North Yorkshire; Suffolk and North Essex; South Yorkshire; Derby and Derbyshire, Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, Lincolnshire, North East and Cumbria; Gloucestershire; West Yorkshire; Norfolk and Waveney and Herefordshire and Worcestershire.


The research also demonstrates the impact of obesity on health outcomes and health inequalities. At a local level, higher levels of deprivation map onto higher obesity rates, higher numbers of hospital admissions and higher numbers of patients receiving surgery.


The report argues that Government obesity policy has failed and that existing obesity policies and strategies have often been isolated, narrow and poorly implemented. It sets out a series of recommendations to deliver a ‘turning point’ for obesity policy:


  • Treating obesity as a health and economic issue – The Government should commission an update to the Foresight report by the Office for Budget Responsibility including an assessment of the impact of obesity rates on:

-Other health conditions

– Welfare costs

– Labour market participation and productivity

– Health and social care expenditure – both direct and indirect costs

– Inward investment

  • Tackling the polluters of poor health – The Treasury should introduce a tobacco levy with excess funds deployed to invest in wider public health services including weight management services and associated infrastructure. If implemented this could raise £400m for such services and see an estimated extra 750,000 – 1.5 million people benefitting. Alongside this a wider review should explore the contributions of companies who are ‘health polluters’ to the nation’s healthcare costs as part of a new approach to increase health investment from means beyond general taxation


  • Building a longer term co-ordinated approach to tackling obesity – To deliver systemic change, the Department of Health and Social Care should publish a long term, evidence based and holistic obesity strategy covering the pathway from prevention to treatment. The Cabinet committee on health inequalities should be re-established with obesity as a priority agenda item. The Chief Medical Officer should be asked to review the evidence on obesity policies independently and publish a report every three years


  • Improving access to NHS services – There is a postcode lottery in access to weight management services across the NHS which must be addressed. New initiatives to pilot innovations and ways of working to tackle obesity must be introduced in areas with the greatest health and economic need.

New campaigns to tackle stigma, improve health education and training, review clinical guidelines more quickly are also proposed. The report also calls for cross government collaboration through relevant forums such as the G7, G20 and World Economic Forum.


Richard Sloggett, Programme Director at Future Health said: “Obesity is costing our economy and the NHS billions. Government policy has failed and an urgent set of interventions are now needed to turn things around. We need to look at the full pathway from prevention through to treatment, raise new funds from those who pollute our health and use this to tackle stigma, improve medical education and open up access to treatment.”


Lord Bethell, former Minister for Innovation at the Department of Health and Social Care said: “As a Minister in the Department of Health and Social Care during the pandemic I saw higher obesity rates tragically translate into greater numbers of hospitalisations and deaths. One of the legacies from Covid-19 needs to be a concerted effort to improve our health. This report sets out solid foundations for a new national obesity mission. By tackling obesity with new co-ordinated cross government action we can deliver not only a healthier but a wealthier and more prosperous nation.”


Maggie Throup MP, former Public Health Minister said: “This report highlights the scale of the obesity challenge across the country, the communities most affected and the economic impact. We cannot level-up without levelling-up in health. This has to include new policies to radically reduce obesity rates and use this as a means of improving life chances and economic regeneration. The Government must now come forward and lead this work with partners across the NHS and local government as part of its mission to reduce health disparities.”


Dr Partha Kar, Diabetes co-lead for NHS England said: “If we want to be serious about obesity management, we need more focus on the societal changes needed to tackle it, rather than a simplistic narrative of lifestyle change and motivation. I welcome this report’s contribution to the debate and in particular the call for a co-ordinated approach from prevention through to treatment along with the importance of tackling stigma. It is critical that we seize new opportunities to re-shape our NHS services so they provide better access for patients to joined-up care.”


Gianluca Casali, Medical Director at Johnson & Johnson MedTech, said: “The findings of this report highlight the need for a renewed focus on the treatment of obesity. Metabolic Disease is a complex health challenge and it is crucial that everyone living with obesity has access to care. We must work towards a government strategy that takes a whole system approach to cover each stage, from prevention through to treatment, across all areas of the UK.”