Health and Care Services

Obesity levels in Wales

16 January 2014

Article by Victoria Paris, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

Image from Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

This week is National Obesity Awareness Week. A report by the National Obesity Forum, ‘State of the Nation’s Waistline’, published this week concludes that the determinations of the 2007 Foresight Report (i.e. that half the population might be obese by 2050 at an annual cost of nearly £50 billion), may now underestimate the scale of the problem.

Adult obesity

According to the most recent statistics from the Welsh Health Survey 2012, over the nine years it has been reporting, there has been an increase in the obesity levels of people aged 16 years and older from 54 per cent in 2003/04 to 59 per cent in 2012 of people classified as overweight or obese.

Maternal obesity

It is well recognised that maternal obesity and weight gain during pregnancy are related to higher levels of obesity in childhood and subsequent obesity in adulthood.  Findings from a national project by the Centre for Maternal and Child Enquiries (CMACE) in 2011 found that around 5 per cent of the UK maternity population were severely obese, with Wales having the highest rate of severe maternal obesity in the UK (6.5%, 1 in every 15 pregnant women).

Childhood obesity

Wales also has the highest childhood obesity rates in the UK.  Findings from the Child Measurement Programme show that nearly three out of ten children (28.2%) were classed as overweight or obese and that the prevalence of obesity increased substantially with increasing deprivation, from 9.4% in the least deprived fifth of Wales to 14.3% in the most deprived fifth.

Welsh Government response

The Welsh Government published the All Wales Obesity Pathway in 2010 which sets out the actions that should be taken by Local Health Boards, working jointly with Local Authorities and other key stakeholders, to help tackle the obesity problem in Wales through local policies, services and activities for both children and adults.  The Pathway sets out a four tier framework for obesity services through primary prevention and early intervention at Level 1, to bariatric surgery at Level 4.

The four tiers are:

Level 1: Community based prevention and early intervention (self care)

Level 2: Community and primary care weight management services

Level 3: Specialist multi disciplinary team weight management services

Level 4: Specialist medical and surgical services.

Assembly activity

Examining the level of obesity services currently available is high on the Assembly agenda.  The Children and Young People Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into childhood obesity to review the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s programmes and schemes which are aimed at reducing the level of obesity in children in Wales and to identify areas where further action could be effective.  The Committee is hearing evidence from the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA), the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Chief Medical Officer this week.

The Health and Social Care Committee have also announced that they are undertaking an inquiry to review the current provision of bariatric services – particularly surgery – in Wales and to identify areas where further action could be effective.  The call for written evidence closes on 24 January 2014.

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