Obesity and the election

30/04/2015  -  11.33

Jane DeVille-Almond: Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing University of Wolverhampton

Did you know there’s an election looming? Yes, I’m sure you did and I guess you all have your own pressing concerns that you are hoping will appear in the manifesto of your favourite party.  

Obesity rates in the UK are the highest in Europe and we now have a situation where two thirds of the UK population is either overweight or obese. More concerning are the staggering costs to the UK economy both directly (£4.2 billion) and indirectly (£15 billion). The overall costs of obesity are likely to be a greater burden than armed violence, war and terrorism.

So with just two weeks before the election what are our parties committing to do in order to curb this growing problem, if you will excuse the pun?

The Conservative party manifesto has committed to continue funding local authority public health budgets with a specific pledge to take action to reduce childhood obesity,  but with no similar pledge in relation to tackling adult obesity.

The Green Party sets no specific pledges in relation to public health or obesity but does pledge to extend VAT at standard rate to less health food. 

The Labour Party’s manifesto is a little more ambitious than previous Labour governments in its pledge to combat obesity including setting limits on amounts of sugar, fat and salt in food directly marketed to children and giving local authorities new powers to manage the number of fast food outlets.

The Liberal Democrat Party has pledged to take a preventative approach by promoting evidence-based ‘social prescribing’ of sports, arts and other activity to help tackle obesity. 

Both the UK Independent Party and the Scottish National Party Manifesto contains no pledges in relation to either public health or obesity, despite Scotland having one of the highest rates of childhood obesity in the UK. So, why should we be worried?

A third of NHS trusts are contemplating rationing certain types of surgery for overweight people. Type 2 Diabetes, a condition directly related to obesity and lifestyle choices, currently costs 10% of the NHS budget and is likely to rise to 16% in the next 10 years possibly bankrupting the NHS. The NHS is in crisis and regardless of how much all the parties pledge to plough into it; unless they take obesity seriously I’m afraid we are heading for a national disaster.