BANT critically questions the strategy and merit of investing £100 million into the new NHS digital weight management program, launched 1st July 2021
This launch is the latest in a stream of government-led initiatives targeting obesity, following close on the heels of 2020’s Better Health campaign. Figures show that a staggering 63% of the British population is now classified as overweight or obese (1).
Yet, as The Sunday Times journalist Isobel Thompson so eloquently put it in her recent feature article ‘Britain’s obesity crisis: how did we get so big’ (2); “Since 1992, 14 government-led strategies and 680 polices related to obesity have failed”. There is something to be said for if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again, but the enormity of this failure is costing the NHS an estimated £6.1 billion per year (3), not to mention the individual lives affected by obesity and related health conditions.
There appears to be an ongoing reluctance to consider wider-reaching approaches to addressing the obesity crisis, as highlighted by the recently published article by The British Journal of General Practice entitled ‘Exemplary medical care or Trojan horse? An analysis of the lifestyle medicine movement’ (4).
Lifestyle medicine considers the modifiable risk factors of individuals and seeks to address these with personalised recommendations. Evidence suggests that personalisation of interventions may be more effective in changing behaviour that will affect health outcomes (5) in contrast to yet another generic government initiative.
The NHS digital weight management program proposes:
In most areas, services will include 12-week sessions, with dietary advice, physical activity guidance and support to help people start and maintain healthier habits. (6)
This advice sounds exactly like the advice provided since 1997 by Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, with the overlay of personalised dietary recommendations versus a generic one-size-fits-all approach.
The British Medical Association (BMA) have themselves described the new initiative as “fundamentally flawed, will have little to no impact in tackling the problem, and will present significant rise in workload at a time when general practices are at breaking point” (7).
There can be no stronger admission that additional resources are required to tackle the obesity crisis. No-where in this new announcement are there provisions to utilise existing professional resources such as BANT nutrition practitioners, many of whom are already working digitally and offering nutrition and lifestyle recommendations, and despite a report published in 2017 by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) and Royal Society for Public Health which looked at the potential impact that the ‘untapped resource’ of practitioners on Accredited Registers (Ars) could have on the nation’s public health.
BANT has been at the forefront of nutritional therapy (NT) and personalised nutrition since 1997 and currently represents 3,500 members; Registered Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, registered with the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC) or statutorily regulated. CNHC holds a register accredited by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA), an independent body accountable to the UK Parliament. Why then are the government not turning to these practitioners before investing elsewhere?
After 20 years of failed policy in tacking obesity it is time for change. With this in mind, BANT launched its own Food for your Health campaign earlier this year to directly address the rise in diet-induced obesity and metabolic dysregulation, and provide free open-access resources to encourage individuals to make healthier diet and lifestyle choices.
BANT is fully invested in achieving the shared objectives of making nutrition and lifestyle medicine part of an integrated healthcare system and is open to further discussions.
- Exemplary medical care or Trojan horse? An analysis of the ‘lifestyle medicine’ movement. David Nunan, David N Blane and Margaret McCartney. British Journal of General Practice 2021; 71 (706): 229-232. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp21X715721
- Ordovas JM, Ferguson LR, Tai ES, Mathers JC. Personalised nutrition and health. BMJ. 2018;361:bmj.k2173. Published 2018 Jun 13. doi:10.1136/bmj.k2173