The UK has a weight problem, and it is no coincidence that we top the tables on deaths per million for Covid. Add to this the overall cost of obesity to wider society at £27 billion, it is a problem that needs fixing. The root of the issue is motivation. Unless an overweight person has a strong desire to lose weight, they won’t. The proposal is to establish the medical equivalent of speed awareness courses – in private hospitals – with volunteer inspirational role models to ‘hand hold’ thereafter.
The figures from Gov.Uk are quite shocking. 64% of adults are overweight, 28% obese, this is the fourth highest in the world. In children (aged 10-11), 21% are obese and 14.1% overweight. The policy paper of July 2020 ‘Tackling obesity: empowering adults and children to live healthier lives’ is a great tool, but realistically it will only benefit those with a strong desire to lose weight. The real problem, is reaching out to the majority of overweight individuals who know it is a good idea to slim down (and encourage their children to eat healthier), but for various reasons don’t. These are the individuals that weren’t hospitalised through Covid and hence haven’t received their wake-up call to action. Motivating the overweight – to want to lose weight – and hence be serious about going about it is the issue.
The answer lies in drawing a parallel with speed awareness courses – but with a medical context. These would be ‘prescribed’ by the GP as appropriate for the individual. They would follow a similar format in that they are for a significant length of time (half a day), are part educational and part strong ‘wake-up’ call, but dissimilar in that they don’t take place in what can be demoralising venues. They would be run by specially trained medical staff (none of whom would be overweight). A programme could be put together based on the consequences of having a high BMI e.g. for every ten-point increase above normal, people’s livers become 2.7 years older than their chronological age. A big focus would also be on the damage to the life chances of children. Educationalists could be involved to ensure a varied, interesting, but suitably hard hitting presentation that isn’t all ‘screen time’. The aim would be high engagement and not too dumbed down or highbrow. The attendees need to come out changed.
To keep costs down and to continue – thinking outside the box – the proposed venues would be private hospitals (particularly those that are/were registered as charities and benefitted from generous business rates relief). It is an opportunity for them to share their good fortune with wider society. If newspaper reports are to be believed, many private hospitals did well out of the Covid crisis. Headlines were full of the ‘win win’ scenario for the private hospital sector. At the end of May 2020 for example, about £1.75billion was shared unequally between 26 private hospital corporations, each of which picked up payments ranging from £0.9m to £346.6m to Britain’s largest private hospital group, which is now Circle Health Holdings. (Source: The Lowdownnnhs.info. Analysis November 8th 2020). Most private hospitals tend to be small in scale (averaging just 43 beds) and are primarily staffed with nurses, most of whom work in them on a part-time sessional basis, while employed by the NHS. Making more use of private hospitals for schemes such as this (on a fair and honest price basis in recognition of their ‘duty’ i.e. shamed somewhat if they are unwilling to contribute to helping the nation become slimmer) makes practical and financial sense. Having the weight awareness courses in such swish, clean, and fresh venues would be a further motivational force for the attendees. We all need to be inspired.
Which brings me to the volunteer ‘hand holding’ inspirational role models – and for this I am going to become personal. When I took my elderly mother for a hospital appointment at The North Middlesex recently, we had the most wonderful experience. On entry there were three smiling women who were volunteers on Covid duty. One took our temperatures, one delivered our sanitiser and the other helped us to find our way. They were beacons of hope. So kind, helpful, and reassuring. They lifted our spirits, and we still talk about them. Similarly, when I visited the Olympic stadium with my sister when they were in London, it was the volunteers we remember mostly.
The UK has the most amazing volunteer army. All ages, nationalities, socioeconomic status etc. and all happy to help. What works for them (invariably) is short-term involvement (particularly if they are retired or have a family) as ‘mentoring’ means a big time commitment. So my proposal is that following a course each attendee is allocated an inspirational volunteer for a short period to help keep them on track. Someone to go food shopping with, someone to relay weight loss successes with, and someone to help download relevant apps/ establish good jogging routes etc. Each volunteer will be allocated about 3 or 4 people to ‘hand hold’ and then when they are ready to let them go, they put them in contact with one other so that they continue to have support but with those on the same journey. These could become ‘Better Life Buddies’ providing ongoing mutual support and who knows…long lasting friendships thereafter.
The consequence of success of motivating the overweight to want to lose weight is a happier and healthier nation – not to mention a fortune saved for the NHS.