The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown into sharp relief the urgent need for long-term reform and sustainable funding for adult social care. All areas of adult social care and its interdependence with health care, need to be considered in the round in a comprehensive action plan. One area which places high demands on social care and exerts significant pressures on costs and resources, is obesity; yet it is often overlooked. Focus to date has centred on obesity-related costs and pressures on the NHS, rather than on social care.
Obesity is one of the very serious public health challenges of our time. Adult obesity, and most worryingly, severe obesity, is rising, along with associated health and social care costs. Obesity is impacting people’s lives now, across the generations, affecting our quality of life by increasing our risk of developing chronic illnesses, such as musculoskeletal conditions and type 2 diabetes; and exposing us to the physical and social difficulties that often result from the development of severe obesity. People living with obesity also suffer weight-related stigma and prejudice.
The costs associated with caring for and treating people with obesity-related, long-term health conditions are significant. Costs are likely to rise as levels of obesity increase and as the population ages, with people spending many more years in ill-health, often with multiple and complex needs. The social care requirements for people with severe obesity are costly and include housing adaptations, specialised equipment, and carer provision.
Particularly over the last decade, health inequalities have widened. This has been accompanied by wider inequalities in both child and adult obesity, with rates increasing most among those from more deprived and less educated backgrounds, and among different ethnic groups.
Effectively preventing and treating obesity will tackle health inequalities and has the potential to significantly improve quality of life and wellbeing, in addition to reducing health and social care costs. Social care has a pivotal role in boosting mental health as a means to support healthy weight management.
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