Lewisham fire truck

London Fire Brigade sees obesity-related incidents more than quadruple

Obesity is on the rise in London as the London Fire Brigade saw the number of bariatric incidents more than quadruple from 2019 to 2023.

The London Fire Brigade recorded incidents where they have attended bariatric incidents, which means aiding obese individuals in need, from 2009 to the present and since 2019, there has been an exponential spike at 384%. 

South east London is at the heart of that spike, with the top seven boroughs since 2009 all south of the river.

As London’s largest fire and rescue service, the London Fire Brigade’s data has highlighted a growing larger issue at hand with the health concerns regarding obesity in the UK, and a rising issue with obesity in south east London. 

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “As part of our service to London, we work closely with our emergency partners.

“This includes assisting them when they respond to emergencies, and when they require us to use our specialist skills and equipment.” 

The House of Commons research briefing published in January 2023 detailed that adult obesity trends rose from 15% to 28% from 1993 to 2019, and the NHS’ Health Survey for England in 2021 found that approximately 26% of people 18 years or older in England were obese. 

While 70% of those in the 45-74 age group were overweight or obese in 2021, 16-24 year-olds were the smallest group classified as overweight or obese at 28% according to the House of Commons Report. 

The NHS defines obesity as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, while a BMI of 25 to 30 is classified as overweight, and estimates that one in four adults in the UK are living with obesity. 

Mirroring rising trends in obesity statistics, in just 10 years, there was a 166% increase in obesity incidents attended by the LFB from 2009 to 2019. 

And it’s not just the number of visits that are going up, as the cost has also skyrocketed, from below £50,000 in 2019 to more than £200,000 in 2023.

In fact, the total notional costs for LFB obesity assistance visits from 2019 to 2023 was £680,166. 

In addition to the LFB’s rising notional costs, the costs of obesity in terms of individuals and the NHS are on the rise in the UK. 

The estimated annual cost to the UK of people living with overweight and obesity is £98 billion, while the annual cost to the NHS is £19 billion, according to Frontier Economics.  

LFB data also suggests that from 2009 to 2023, most bariatric incidents occurred in south east London Croydon and Greenwich, while the least (outside the City of London) occurred in Kingston Upon Thames.

The NHS Health Survey for England 2021 also highlighted various healthcare inequalities resulting in overweight and obesity trends within certain populations, as those with no educational qualifications were also more prone to obesity or overweight than those with educational qualifications, at 12 points higher.

A coalition of more than 50 organisations advocating for policy change regarding obesity and the improvement of public health, the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) seeks to change the national conversation about obesity. 

Government Affairs Lead for the OHA Alfred Slade said: “Since the early 90s, there’s been a continued increase in overall obesity rates with devastating health consequences. 

“Since that first government obesity strategy in the early 90s, there have been 14 strategies that have attempted to in some way reduce the prevalence of overweight in the UK.” 

Slade said while the OHA primarily works with the national government in Westminster, the OHA aims to ensure equitable access to all appropriate forms of weight management services.

Discussing the OHA’s 10-year healthy weight strategy Turning the Tide, Slade said: “The main message of Turning the Tide is that there are structural changes that can be made by government to help make the healthy choice, the easy choice.

“Fundamentally, price is part of it, marketing is part of it, convenience is part of it, but these are all factors that are driving people into illness and ill health. 

“An increasing concern I have is this perception that there is some kind of miracle silver bullet for obesity, that we just need to invent the right drug or the right meal plan and suddenly, it will be fine. 

“Obesity is a complex, multi-faceted issue, it’s a condition that relapses, and there is no such thing as a silver bullet on obesity.

“It is a complex solution requiring a lot of complex policies.” 

This increase in obesity and a backlog of individuals waiting to receive bariatric surgery from the NHS, which allows obese individuals to make changes to their digestive system, has led to a steep rise in bariatric tourism, where patients are going to other countries to receive the operation. 

In the same vein, bariatric tourism costs have risen, costing the NHS more than the surgery itself due to surgical complications.

Obesity is a growing issue in the UK and needs to be addressed through policy change, reformulation, and food marketing changes. 

Featured image credit: Graham Mitchell via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 2.0 licence

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