As slimming advice overwhelms the media in the new year, the Information Centre for health and social care has added to the throng with a compendium of information on obesity, physical activity and diet.

As slimming advice overwhelms the media in the new year, the Information Centre for health and social care has added to the throng with a compendium of information on obesity, physical activity and diet.

For the first time, we have enabled NHS staff and patients to gain a collective insight into the national impact of our major lifestyle choices.

Headline figures from the latest Health Survey for Englandrevealed that, among children aged two to 15, the proportion of boys who were obese had increased from 10.9 per cent in 1995 to 18 per cent in 2005, and the proportion of girls from 12 per cent to 18.1 per cent.

Another aspect of obesity that has been explored is the relationship between children being obese or overweight and their parents' body mass index. In 2001-2002 19.8 per cent of children with both parents classified as obese or overweight were overweight themselves - more than twice as many as other children.

The prevalence of obesity in adults had also risen steadily over the past 10 years and the proportion who were categorised as obese, with a body mass index of over 30, increased from 13.2 per cent of men in 1993 to 22.1 per cent in 2005. The percentage of women increased from 16.4 per cent to 21.9 per cent.

Changing lifestyles
The impact of this rise on the NHS is clear. Figures from the National Audit Office suggest that, for young adults, the risk of mortality for an obese person is about 50 per cent higher than for someone with a desirable BMI. Obese women are also almost 13 times more likely to develop type-2 diabetes than non-obese women.

The NAO estimated in 1998 that 30,000 deaths a year in England were attributable to obesity, approximately 6 per cent of all deaths. This estimate was revised upwards to 34,100 deaths in 2002 following research by a House of Commons select committee.

In terms of NHS treatment, this equates to:

  • A rise in the number of finished consultant episodes for bariatric surgical procedures - adjustable gastric banding and gastric bypass - from 114 in 1996/97 to 881 in 2005/06.

  • A 249 per cent rise between 1996/97 and 2005/06 in the number of finished consultant episodes where obesity was named as the primary diagnosis - 787 admissions in 1996/97 compared with 2,749 in 2005/06. There were a further 62,708 episodes in 2005/06 where obesity was the secondary diagnosis.

  • In 2005, almost 871,000 prescription items were dispensed for the treatment of obesity, compared with just over 127,000 prescriptions in 1999, an increase of 585 per cent.

The report has also brought together information on our changing dietary and physical activity habits.

In England in 2004, 35 per cent of men and 24 per cent of women reported achieving the physical activity recommendations for adults - at least 30 minutes of at least moderately intense activity at least five times a week.

The most predominant reasons for adults not participating in active sport during 2005 were poor health, at 50 per cent, difficulty in finding the time, at 18 per cent, and and not being interested, at 15 per cent.

Results from the 2005 Health Survey for Englandrevealed that only 26 per cent of men, 30 per cent of women and 17 per cent of children aged five to 15 consumed the recommended five or more portions of fruit or vegetables a day.

Phil Wade is the director for business development at the Information Centre for health and social care.