William Eichler 20 August 2020

Obesity stigma fuelling ‘severe impact’ on adult social care

Weight-related stigmas need tackling to help prevent rising levels of obesity having a significant impact on adult social care, local authority leaders say.

The Local Government Association (LGA) says council care costs are rising as levels of obesity increase with more people living longer in ill-health with multiple and complex needs, requiring costly housing adaptations, specialised equipment and personal care.

They estimate that up to a third of adults will be obese by 2024.

Councils are concerned that a fear of offence and a lack of referral services for severely obese people sees some health practitioners only record a person’s condition, such as diabetes or stroke, in data and not obesity or Body Mass Index (BMI) even though that is often the underlying issue.

Practitioners also often compensate for the loss of mobility in obese clients with more equipment, the LGA says. This means the clients move about less and their problems are compounded, increasing their likely long-term reliance on social care services.

In its new report, Social Care and Obesity, the LGA is urging doctors and health professionals to have an honest conversation about people’s weight when they consider it to be the underlying cause of a condition and for weight to be routinely recorded in data collection to help inform prevention work and ensure that services are tailored to population need.

It says this ‘frank approach’ has become more urgent considering that severe obesity rates have soared seven-fold for men and almost trebled for women since the mid-90s.

Research shows that the yearly cost of council funded community-based social care for a severely obese person is nearly double the cost of a person with a healthy BMI, which equates to an extra £423,000 in annual excess social care costs for a typical council.

Further research shows that obese people are 25% more likely to be using some form of long-term care in two years’ time, than those with a healthy BMI.

Increasing obesity levels have also led to a rise in demand for specialist bariatric equipment, for heavier patients, with some councils reporting a 47% increase in spend on this equipment.

‘Obesity is a ticking timebomb for the nation’s health and is one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, but its impact on adult social care is largely overlooked,’ said Cllr Ian Hudspeth, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board.

‘Unless we tackle the stigma and serious challenge of obesity, the costly and debilitating major health conditions it causes could bankrupt adult social care and NHS services.

‘Health professionals need to start having frank conversations about their people’s weight if it could be an underlying cause of their condition and routinely record it; individuals need to take responsibility for their own decisions and government needs to support them to do so.

‘Obesity needs to be tackled head-on, otherwise people’s health will continue to suffer, health inequalities associated with obesity will remain and the economic and social costs will increase to unsustainable levels.’

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