Obesity crisis in Yarmouth

FEARS of a “massive public health crisis” have been raised as new figures showed the number of people admitted to hospital in Norfolk because of obesity had almost trebled in the past two years.

FEARS of a “massive public health crisis” have been raised as new figures showed the number of people admitted to hospital in Norfolk because of obesity had almost trebled in the past two years.

In the NHS Norfolk area there were 124 admissions to hospital in 2008/2009, compared to 67 the previous year and 44 in 2006/2007.

It was a similar picture for NHS Yarmouth and Waveney which had 18 admissions in 2008/2009, a rise from 13 the previous year and 11 the year before.

The figures show admissions where obesity is a predominant cause of ill-health - where someone is so overweight they are seriously ill - but it is believed hundreds more attend hospital outpatient departments with associated problems.

The news comes as a blow to health bosses, who have worked hard to reduce obesity levels through a number of local and national initiatives.

Obesity can cause a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as some cancers.

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North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “This is yet more evidence highlighting this growing problem.

“Obesity is a massive public health crisis, which causes misery to millions of people and has the potential to bankrupt the NHS.”

Mr Lamb, health spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said: “Tackling this problem is going to mean looking at new approaches like incentives to get people off the sofa.

“Every time figures come out like this, it shows just what a major problem this is.”

Earlier this year, a report by NHS Norfolk showed that 18.3pc of 10 and 11 year olds (year six) were classed as obese - a rise from 16.2pc last year.

Obesity is calculated using a formula known as Body Mass Index (BMI) based on height and weight. If it is higher than 25, someone is considered overweight and they are classed obese if it is above 30.

Across England, hospital admissions for obesity have risen on average 60pc in the past year and by 360pc compared to five years ago, according to the statistics released by the NHS Information Centre.

In 2006, beds at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital had to be reinforced and mortuary slabs strengthened because of the rise in obese patients.

The James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, has had to make similar investments to deal with the obesity crisis and three years ago a rising number of staff at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Kings Lynn, reported back problems due to lifting heavy patients.

Since 2005 government MEND (Mind Exercise Nutrition Do it!) programmes have been rolled out in Norfolk to reduce family obesity levels.

Earlier this year, a Change4Life project was launched in East Anglia by the Department of Health to encourage children to be more active and eat healthily to help them live longer.

A Healthy Norfolk Schools programme has for the past few years targeted general health exercise and weight loss, including getting more children to walk to school. There has also been a concerted effort to get more children to eat school dinners.

Jonathan Williams, NHS Norfolk's assistant director for public health, said: “The main causes of obesity are known to be a lack of exercise and a high calorie diet, so NHS Norfolk is committed to working very closely with our partners in education, local authorities and the voluntary sector to encourage members of the public to become more active and facilitate their move towards healthier diets.

“It is also notable that while the figures indicate there were 124 hospital admissions in 2008/09, this is a relatively low figure when we consider that NHS Norfolk's area covers a population of 750,000 people.”

Dr Shamsher Diu, public health consultant for NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said the upward trend of hospital admissions was “worrying”, but said the figures are not clear as they relate to episodes, meaning they could count one person being admitted on several occasions.

He said: “As the Primary Care Trust for the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area, we are committed to supporting families to move towards a height weight and have a number of free initiatives in place to encourage healthy eating and exercise.

“Being overweight can seriously damage people's health, while leading to major problems later in life, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.”

“Anyone who may be interested in one of our healthy lifestyle courses can call 01502 719500 or go to www.gywpct.nhs.uk ”

NHS Suffolk also experienced a rise in hospital admissions with 91 in 2008/2009; a rise from 49 the year before and 39 in 2006/2007.