Quadruple rise in childhood obesity hospital admissions


Alarming NHS figures show that the number of children requiring hospital treatment for obesity-related conditions has increased more than four-fold in less than ten years.

The analysis, conducted by researchers at Imperial College London, comprised of a study of NHS hospital admission statistics for obesity between 2000 and 2009 in England and Wales. The research team, led by Dr Sonia Saxena, looked at statistics where either obesity the main cause for the admission or together with a condition that had worsened due to obesity.

They discovered a sharp rise in the number of five to 19-year-olds admitted to hospital with obesity related conditions, increasing from 872 to 3,806, with almost 21,000 patients aged five to 19 being treated for such problems in that period. Reporting their findings in the journal Public Library of Science ONE, the team also state that admissions were more common in girls than boys.

Girls accounted for 55% of the cases, as well as comprising of three-quarters of the patients who had underwent bariatric weight loss surgery, where the stomach is reduced in size. Also known as gastric surgery, bariatric operations carry a number of risks and can cost thousands of pounds for somebody who decides they do not want to join an ever-growing NHS waiting list for such operations – after meeting strict criteria of course.

Dr Sonia Saxena says: “This is one of the first studies to show health problems linked to obesity are affecting children. The figures are alarming. This is no longer a ticking obesity time bomb – it has exploded. It is no longer obese adults that should be the sole focus of our concerns. It’s clear that rising obesity levels are causing more medical problems in children. The burden of obesity is usually thought to have its serious consequences in adulthood, but we now see it manifesting earlier, in childhood.”

Tam Fry, a member of the National Obesity Forum and chairman of the Child Growth Foundation charity, added: “I’m not surprised by this leap, and I won’t be surprised if in five years we’re taking about another significant rise. When it comes to obesity we have taken our eyes off children to such an extent that they are now completely unmonitored and left to get on with it. The medical profession is not really paying too much attention to them. A lot of these young people are completely unaware that piling on the pounds will not only make them fat but give rise to these other conditions. We’ve got a substantial number of our children going into their secondary school life ill-equipped to know what the consequences of fatness and obesity are. We need a thorough reappraisal of the way we allow the food industry to get away with stuffing unhealthy levels of fat and sugar into their food. We need to ban fizzy drinks and sugar-laden drinks entirely. We need to take really radical steps.”

Obesity has long been connected to a wide range of serious health problems during childhood and increases the risk of developing conditions such as type-2 diabetes, asthma and can result in interrupted sleep due to breathing difficulties.

Government figures show that about 30% of children between the ages of 2 and 15 years old are classified as overweight and around a fifth are classified as obese. Worryingly, the number of overweight or obese children is expected to double by 2050.

Doctors and health experts have stressed the need for urgent government action to ease a nationwide obesity crisis, such as severely limiting access to junk food.

Professor Mitch Blair of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, commented: “The UK already has the highest rate of childhood obesity in western Europe, estimated to cost the NHS £4.2billion a year. This, coupled with these latest statistics, further emphasises the need for urgent action. The fast paced nature and rising cost of day-to-day living means parents are often left with little option but to feed their family quick and easy food which is often extremely unhealthy. This, and the fact children favour video games or watching television over playing outside, is a recipe for disaster. We need to look seriously at how fast food is marketed at children and consider banning junk food prior to the 9pm watershed, limiting the number of fast food outlets near schools and making sure children are taught the importance of a healthy, balanced diet.”

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