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NHS at risk from obesity 'timebomb'

Slimming World | Slimming World

4 min read Partner content

The Managing Director of Slimming World calls for urgent political leadership to address a looming public health crisis.

Child and adult obesity is a “timebomb” for the NHS, an industry expert has warned.

Slimming World managing director Caryl Richards is concerned about the pressure that weight related illnesses could have on health services in the UK.

If no action is taken, she says, the issue will have a negative impact on “a whole generation.”

She is alarmed about the potential financial impact the problem could have on a health system that was not designed to deal with burgeoning weight gain. 

“We need the NHS working on the things that they know how to solve, the NHS doesn’t know how to solve obesity…

“They won’t be able to solve those issues and we are living longer but in the end it could be obesity that is the killer,” she says.

As May’s general election approaches Slimming World has launched its manifesto outlining the key commitments it would like to see from political parties in order to improve care and support for overweight people.  

There is currently “no clear policy emerging from any of the parties,” according to Ms Richards, which she describes as a “huge cause for concern…

“And because there is no clear policy the situation is only going to get worse; it is essential that somebody takes some strong leadership now.”

A central issue for the company is changing the public perception of overweight people, eliminating the stigma associated with overweight and creating an environment of compassion and kindness. 

Establishing a national standard for the training of health and education professionals is a key part of this endeavour.

Current provision of services is left to Local Authorities to design and deliver and is currently “incredibly fragmented and confusing for people,” according to Ms Richards.

Guidance on how to raise the issue of weight loss and then where to refer patients on to is vital, she says, in achieving successful outcomes for individuals and families.   

“We know that health professionals are sometimes reluctant to raise the issue of weight for a number of different reasons and when they do therefore, advice is inconsistent and sometimes positively harmful. If you don’t know how to raise the issue sensitively it will only drive people further into the spiral of guilt, shame, defensiveness and denial, which means the problem will only worsen for that individual.”

They must, she adds, be “signposted to reliable, responsible organisations that can help and understand.”

Government minister Claire Perry recently advocated using the “carrot” rather than the “stick” approach to encouraging people to lose weight.

This stance is fully endorsed by Slimming World, not just because it is kinder but also because it has proved to be the most successful.

“We are not just saying this to be nice to overweight people; it’s counterproductive to treat being overweight with the stick,” Ms Richards says.

Dealing with the lack of understanding on the issue and the shame and guilt that is often at the heart of the issue is a vitally important part of the weight loss process for Slimming World.

Negative perception is the result, Ms Richards says, of “ignorance… bias, judgment and prejudice.” 

Whilst she accepts that people will naturally make assumptions about others, she rejects the characterisation of overweight people as “lazy or stupid”.

“No-one deserves the bullying and bad treatment,” she adds.

The complexity of the causes of the UK’s obesity problem poses challenges for Government when considering possible policy solutions.

That is why Slimming World is encouraging policy makers to use the organisation’s expertise and significant research and data resources.

The organisation currently has a dataset of 1.3m people.

“Why not access that knowledge and expertise,” Ms Richards says, “the massive database that we have got and our absolute understanding.

“We know how to support people to make the necessary changes and we care enormously about getting it right…

“We open our doors to people who want to come and talk to us anytime and share what we know and what we believe could help.”

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