Published on 6 April 2018

NHS aiming to tackle rising numbers of people of overweight people with tax on sugary drinks.

A new NHS report has revealed that there has been an 18% rise in hospital admissions related to obesity since 2015.

The report is published in the week that the “sugar tax” on soft drinks is introduced (on 6th April) in the UK that aims to prevent young people becoming overweight and at risk of developing related health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.

New sports facilities at schools are planned, along with funds for breakfast clubs and universal infant free school meals with the funds of around £240 million generated from the new “sugar tax”. This figure is lower than a previously estimated £500 million, however that is due to many drink manufacturers already reducing their sugar content.

Manufacturers of soft drinks will be taxed – and it is up to them whether this will be reflected in higher costs to the consumer.

Drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100ml will face a tax rate equivalent to 24p per litre. Those containing 5-8g of sugar per 100ml will a lower rate of 18p per litre.

It is estimated that diabetes and related health complications cost the NHS more than £6 billion every year to treat and one in six patients in hospital has diabetes.

Around nine out of 10 people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes which is closely linked to obesity and there is strong evidence that it is preventable, through lifestyle changes, like getting more exercise and eating a healthy diet.

Middle aged woman walking.

The recently published report by NHS Digital on obesity, physical activity and diet found that the number of obese children increases from 10% in reception year to 20% by the end of primary school education in year six.

The report recorded 617,000 admissions to NHS hospitals in 2016/17 where obesity was either a primary or secondary diagnosis - an increase from 525,000 in 2015/16.

Of these, 10,705 admissions had obesity recorded as the main cause, an increase on 9,929 admissions in 2015/16.

The report is an annual study of obesity, including figures for hospital admissions, prescription items, prevalence among adults and children in addition to physical activity and diet.

The report found that around two thirds (66%) of hospital admissions related to obesity were for women.

In addition, around 77% of people having appointments for weight loss surgery were female.

Prescriptions for treatment of obesity went down by 10% over the same period - 401,000 items in 2017, from 449,000 the previous year. The cost fell to £6.9 million in 2017, from £9.9 million in 2016.

The report found that more than a quarter of adults in the UK are obese, at 26% in 2016, a figure that has remained consistent since 2010. The report also found that 66% of men and 58% of women getting the recommended amount of physical activity. However, 21% of men and 25% of women were classed as inactive.

The report also recorded how many people were meeting the recommended exercise targets and if they were eating their “five-a-day” portions of fruit and vegetables.

Around a quarter of adults (24% men, 28% women) were eating the recommended five-a-day portions of fruit and vegetables in 2016. However, since 2014 there was a worrying drop from 23% to 16% in 2016 in the amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by young people.

In addition to the sugar tax, the availability of snacks and drinks high in sugar content has been reduced in hospital cafes and shops. So far 152 of 232 NHS trusts have signed up to the scheme to reduce sales of “SSBs” – sugar sweetened beverages.

An NHS England report showed that reducing the sale of chocolate and unhealthy sandwiches has helped hospital staff, patients and their friends and family consume 632 million fewer calories over the last year, since super-size chocolate bars and “grab bags” of sugary snacks were taken off of the shelves.

Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England said: “We now know that obesity causes 13 different types of cancer as well as heart attacks and strokes, so the NHS has needed to get its own house in order on the epidemic of flab. Once the Easter eggs are gone, the NHS will be getting on with ensuring our hospitals and their retailers are offering healthier food and drinks for patients, relatives and staff.”

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, at NHS England said: “We have been clear that the growing obesity crisis sweeping the country is a public health crisis and the evidence backs it up. Obesity is associated with heart attacks, cancer, type 2 diabetes and a number of other illnesses – causing personal suffering and costing the health service and in turn the taxpayer, billions every year. And for all of those conditions, wherever possible, prevention is preferable to cure. Our own sugar restrictions, the new sugar tax and the NHS diabetes prevention programme are all part of what needs to be a concerted effort to address obesity.”

Read the NHS Digital report on obesity here
Find out more about type 2 diabetes
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