The NHS attitude to bariatric surgery has been described as “inexplicable.”
A report by the Health Select Committee criticises NHS England for spending more money on weight loss surgery than on measures to prevent obesity. It is important, the report argues, that more emphasis is placed on spreading awareness of the benefits of exercise: “The committee regards it as inexplicable and unacceptable that the NHS is now spending more on bariatric surgery for obesity than on a national roll-out of intensive lifestyle intervention programmes that were first shown to cut obesity and prevent [type 2] diabetes over a year ago.”
Obesity increases the risk of a number of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. Obesity is a major (although by no means the only) cause of type 2 diabetes. By encouraging the public to eat more healthily and get more exercise, the report suggests, the government could see rates of type 2 diabetes drop significantly.
The report recommends a stricter regulation of food ingredients, banning the marketing of sugary drinks to children, and providing greater support for people who are at risk of becoming obese or developing type 2 diabetes. In short, the report suggests that bariatric surgery would not be necessary if money was spent more wisely elsewhere.
“It is vital that the importance of physical activity for all the population – regardless of their weight, age, gender, health, or other factors – is clearly articulated and understood.”
“We call on the next government to make a clear commitment, together with appropriate long-term funding, to significantly increase the levels of cycling and walking.
The report highlights the significant disparity in exercise levels between men and women as an example of inadequate promotion of the benefits of exercise.
On the other hand, a recent analysis by the Royal College of Surgeons indicates that bariatric surgery has become less common in the past two years, which suggests that things are being improved.
John Middleto, vice-president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “Bariatric surgery generates huge costs to patients, families and the NHS . We need public health policies that can save money by helping prevent people becoming obese in the first place.”
Professor John Wass, of the Royal College of Physicians, commented: “It is welcome to see the findings of this report recognise the importance and benefits of physical activity beyond just weight loss, as previous findings have shown regular physical activity of just 30 minutes, five times a week, can make a huge difference to a patient’s health.”

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