Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned Great Britain’s childhood obesity situation. The healthcare market research company MackSense sells a report (for only $3,550) on the current state of obesity in the United Kingdom. Despite the cost of the document itself, the organization offers some facts for free on its website, mainly about the direct and indirect costs to the National Health Service (NHS) each year for treatment for obesity and obesity-related illnesses. For instance:
The NHS now spends an estimated £50m to £85m per year on bariatric surgery. NHS-funded bariatric procedures in England jumped from 261 in 2000/01 to 8,087 in 2010/11 while 10,831,705 prescription items for drugs for the treatment of obesity were dispensed in England alone between 1999 and 2011, amounting to nearly £420.5m.
Translated, that’s between $80 and $136 million per year for bariatric surgery, though one wonders why there is such a range to the “estimation.” Surely the NHS has existed long enough to have its bookkeeping procedures pulled together a little more tightly by now.
Twelve years worth of anti-obesity drug prescriptions put $673 million in the pockets of the Roche pharmaceutical corporation. Actually, there is only one such drug, Xenical, and although it has a generic name, Orlistat, it’s not available in a (more economical) generic form. Orlistat is said to block the absorption and digestion of about one quarter of the fat in any meal. It also prevents the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, so users should take multivitamin supplements, but it is unclear whether the government health service also supplies these.
An online forum where patients describe their experiences reveals that embarrassment seems to be the mechanism by which Orlistat works. According to anecdotal accounts, eating a high-fat meal causes the undigested fats to exit the body uncontrollably, at unexpected times. (Roche, by the way, also sells adult diapers, incontinence pads, chair covers, and other barriers to surprise excretion.)
If a person takes this drug and keeps their fat intake quite low, and spread out over the day’s three meals, being on Orlistat is apparently manageable, with maybe just some belly cramps. It is not recommended for use during pregnancy, and is absolutely not supposed to be used by mothers who breastfeed, nor is it supposed to be prescribed to children.
There are also quite a few other medications with which Orlistat is not supposed to be mixed, including anti-depressants, which quite a few people are on. There are so many contraindications with this drug, it’s a mystery how the people of Great Britain even manage to use so much of it.
The report points out that these numbers are not limited by the demand — the NHS could spend a lot more, if it had the money — but only by the availability of services and the ability of the government to pay for them. It also points out that obesity affects both individuals and society in too many different ways for any “one-size-fits-all” solution to be useful. In any case, the United Kingdom is characterized as “under threat from rampant overweight and obesity.”
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