Cuts to obesity services in Sheffield 'could put greater strain on NHS'

The council says weight management services are not 'cost-effective'
The council says weight management services are not 'cost-effective'
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Severely obese adults will be at greater risk of developing potentially fatal conditions by planned funding cuts, it has been warned.

Sheffield Council is switching its focus from cure to prevention as it attempts to tackle rising levels of obesity in the city.

Many of the measures in its new food and wellbeing strategy, which include a possible ban on junk food adverts near schools and a free water refill scheme to cut consumption of sugary drinks, have been welcomed.

READ MORE: Free water refills and food vouchers - how Sheffield plans to turn tide on rising obesity rates
But one woman at the forefront of efforts to reduce child obesity in the city believes those who are already battling weight problems must not be forgotten.

Kath Sharman is managing director of SHINE Health Academy, which helps children lead healthier lifestyles.

She said: "I can completely understand where the council is coming from. Its public health role is aimed at prevention and early intervention, and what it's proposing in that area is great.

READ MORE: Schools in Sheffield on the front line of battle to curb child obesity
"But this could have a big impact on obese people in Sheffield by diminishing a lot of the excellent services which are already up and running.

"It could put them at greater risk of developing conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, which will put a greater strain on the NHS.

"Where will those people go now? Either GPs are going to be inundated or their condition is gradually going to get worse and they will end up in hospital."

READ MORE: Child obesity hits highest ever level in Sheffield
Under the council's new strategy, approved by cabinet members last month, overall spending on preventing and treating obesity would fall from £728,000 a year to £658,000 in 2019/20, as part of wider council budget cuts.

At present, a total of £460,000 a year is spent on 'tier 2' child and adult weight management, plus £194,000 on 'tier 3' specialist adult weight management - for those with severe and complex obesity.

All services are currently provided by Everyone Health, whose contract expires at the end of September.

Under the plans, from next year the council would spend £300,000 on tier 2 child and adult weight management, with no tier 3 services.

The reduction in funding means face-to-face support may no longer be available to all those wishing to access such assistance.

The council said there was 'very limited evidence' that specialist weight management services were a cost-effective way of tackling obesity.

"Evidence shows that our food choices are influenced by: the food we were given in early life (conception to start of school); all forms of marketing (this particularly affects children); widespread exposure to cheap and appealing calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food; affordability (including the impact of poverty); education and health promotion; social influences and social changes," it added.

"In order to maximise effectiveness a food strategy will need to address all sources of influence. The current use of the obesity prevention budget solely on weight management services does not address the full breadth of influences."

* SHINE has launched a petition calling on the Government to fund specialist services for children with severe obesity. You can sign the petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/205447.