Global Obesity 2.1 Billion: A NICE Concern in the UK

As global obesity hits 2.1 billion people, NICE (the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) finds itself under some criticism for new guidelines to treat obesity.

A new analysis and commentary published this week in Lancet concludes that global obesity has roughly tripled since 1980 and that it now affects 2.1 billion people. The U.S., China, and India account for more than a quarter of the world’s population with obesity. Obesity has become as great a threat to the health of the developing world as it has been for some time to the developed world. Christopher Murray, one of the authors, said, “Since 1980, no country has made significant progress in reducing the rates of people being overweight or obese.” So much for sunny declarations of turning the corner.

This report finds that the UK has the highest rate of obesity in western Europe for girls and women under the age of 20. With concern about obesity growing in the UK, NICE has just published a new protocol for providing weight management services through commercial programs such as Weight Watchers. The response has been decidedly mixed. Sir Richard Thompson, the president of the Royal College of Physicians, said:

NICE’s new guidance will help encourage greater co-ordination of services and provide the support that medical professionals need to deliver high-quality prevention and obesity management services.

Patient advocates who have felt the sting of NICE denying coverage for expensive new cancer drugs were sharply critical. Some suggested these recommendations came from “cuckoo-land.” More temperate criticism came from Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, who said:

I can see why NICE have recommended in favor of these weight management programs – obesity is one of the leading causes of cancer, so I would be in favor of more focus on prevention, but we have been very disappointed by some of the decisions NICE has taken on drug treatments for a number of cancers.

Seeing the funding for treatment of the consequences of obesity put squarely at odds with treating the problem at its source is distressing. But we’ve been doing this all along in a subtle way — turning away people who need evidence-based obesity treatment.

We can’t afford all the disease that neglecting obesity is causing.

Click here to read the study in Lancet, here for the commentary, here for the reaction in the UK, and here for the new NICE guidance.

Earth at Night, photograph © NASA / flickr

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