New figures released by the Department of Health reveal the current and predicted costs of obesity to every primary care trust (PCT) in England.

Based on figures for 2007-8, the report suggests that the NHS local administrative PCTs spent a total of £4.2 billion on treating the health effects of overweight and obesity. The NHS’s current budget for 2008-9 is just under £100 billion.

The future looks bad
Hiwever, the projected figures by 2015 if no action is taken are even more alarming at a time when tax revenues are being hit by the economic slowdown. The 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives toolkit: A Toolkit for Developing Local Strategies' report suggests that this figure could rise to £6.3 billion.

These assumptions reflect the projections of former NatWest chief executive Derek Wanless (who was also on Northern Rock’s risk and remuneration committee), whose reports for Gordeon Brown’s Treasury in 2002 and 2003 projected a possible difference of £30 billion pounds a year for the NHS budget by 2022 if there was no change.

Obesity disproportionately affects the poorest and worst-educated in society, as highlighted in the current Channel 4 TV programme Jamie’s Ministry Of Food. The effects of an economic recession will be to increase unemployment in this traditionally low-skilled group, and the low cost and high-fat, high-sugar ’instant hit’ of highly processed foods could have a double-whammy effect, possibly rendering the figure an under-estimate.

The 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives toolkit is available to all PCTs and Local Authorities to help them tackle obesity in their areas and help their citizens live healthier lives. It also gives advice on how local health professionals can support and help people in their areas to eat more healthily and be more active.

It also uses research from the forthcoming Change4Life campaign to give insight into why families and parents find it difficult to live healthy lives. Change4Life is a new national movement to help people throughout England to live healthier, more active lives, which launches this autumn, with a major publicity campaign in January 2009.

The toolkit suggests that:
* parents don't recognise that their children are overweight - just 11.5 per cent of parents with overweight or obese children recognise it;
* parents underestimate how much unhealthy food and convenience food they buy as well as overestimating the amount of activity their children do;
* only 38 per cent of adults know that obesity can lead to heart disease and only 6 per cent know about the link of being overweight to cancer;
* many families use snacks as rewards, as fillers during times of boredom and to appease conflict;
* parents of older children are more worried about not feeding them enough and the risk of eating disorders such as anorexia; and
* lack of knowledge, confidence and skills is the main barrier which stops parents cooking from scratch.

Minister - obesity the biggest challenge
Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said, "Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face - every year 9,000 people die prematurely. And many people simply just don't know that being overweight can lead to major health problems including heart disease and cancer.

"We are leading the world when it comes to facing up to the problem and tackling obesity. From this autumn we are aiming to change the way we all live our lives. The Change4Life campaign will help us all to change the way we eat, the way we exercise and the way we raise our children so we can prevent obesity and related diseases."

Chief Medical Officer, Sir Liam Donaldson added, "Since I first spoke in my 2002 annual report of 'Obesity: the health time bomb' nothing has changed my mind about the seriousness of this threat to the country's future health.

"The link between obesity and preventable illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer is undeniable. In England almost two-thirds of adults and a third of children are either overweight or obese; without effective action this could rise to nine in ten adults and two-thirds of children by 2050.

"I welcome the 'Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives', toolkit, which will provide Primary Care Trusts and local authorities with detailed support for the best approaches to tackling being overweight and obesity in local areas, and together with the Change4Life national campaign, can help us all live longer, and healthier lives."