Obesity figures increase in South London

South London sees more hospital admissions for obesity-related health problems than almost anywhere else in England, new data shows.

Only two other areas – both in the north-east – recorded more inpatients with weight problems last year, as a proportion of the population, than in Southwark, Lewisham and Lambeth.

A doctor at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Foundation Trust spoke to the South London Press about the problem after statistics released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed this part of the country to be among the areas worst affected.

Lewisham and Lambeth both recorded 66 obesity-related admissions per 100,000 people, and Lambeth 62, compared with a London average of 34 and an England average of 21.

Dr Jude Oben is a liver specialist and has made it his mission to tackle the obesity crisis, which costs the NHS £5billion a year.

He explained that the biggest cause of obesity was a lack of education and awareness of what the food we eat contained.

Dr Oben said: “Obesity is a nationwide problem that is getting worse – it is not just South London. “South London does have higher rates but that would be a reflection of the demographics, with fewer ABC1s [upper and middle class] people living here.

There is no other magical explanation for it: it is simply a lack of awareness of the calorific content of the food we eat.

“ABC1s are more aware, and we have done studies to show it.

“So what we need to do is educate people.

“Three years ago, I helped launch at the House of Lords with the help of Lord McColl of Dulwich an obesity perception campaign, and one of the actions we looked at was tackling obesity in adolescence by having ambassadors to tell them how much they should be eating and make them more calorie-aware.

“Obesity is known to cause at least six different types of cancer and it is now the biggest cause of liver disease, which is how I became aware of the problem as a liver specialist. “When it costs the NHS £5billion a year you have to ask why the Government is not putting more money into tackling it.

“In the 1980s, there was a big awareness campaign around HIV.

“Why can’t we do that for obesity? “People need to know that it can kill them.

“We need to have posters up in places like South London to tell people this.”

Dr Oben said it was the Government, rather than the food industry, that had to take on responsibility for the problem.

“We are not going to try and tackle the food industry. People should be free to eat what they like – why would I want to take on McDonald’s or Coca-Cola? People just need to be educated so they know how much of this food is bad for them. I eat chocolate, too, but I know how much exercise I need to do to burn it off.”

Food labelling should also be made simpler, Dr Oben said, but he thought the onus was on the Government to make it happen.

“Telling someone there is 800 calories in something can be meaningless. You need to tell people what it means and how much exercise they will need to do. People in South London need help – doctors like me can only do so much.”

Dr Oben co-founded the Obesity Action Campaign in 2011 and is a researcher and senior lecturer in liver medicine at University College London. He is also a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital in north London.