Is the NHS Doing Enough The Help The Overweight?

We have been researching the government backed opportunities for overweight people in Essex, England and our findings so far are a little concerning.

It seems that if you are obese, or almost obese (BMI over 28+) then you can get help from the NHS as part of their “Tackling Obesity” scheme. However, if you are just overweight, and this may still mean that you have an unhealthy waist circumference, you often cannot get support.

Now, this is a very good service, lets be clear on that, but it is called “tackling obesity”. Surely the service should be aiming to avoid obesity as well as just help those already obese?

An Example: North East Essex NHS – Tackling Obesity

“The Tackling Obesity service offers a choice of weight management programmes for adults and children.”

Shape Up

The first of the services is called Shape Up. This is a weekly 90 minute class that lasts of 8 weeks. The classes are run out of two towns in north east Essex – Colchester and Tendring. It only runs when there is sufficient interest, the site quotes 12 people as minimum to run the course.

People entitled to sign up are those with a BMI>28 up to BMI<40, with or without co-morbidities.

It is really for people that have tried and failed to lose weight before. If you are merely overweight, with a BMI 25-27, you are not eligible to attend.

MEND (Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do-it!)

This service is for families with overweight and obese children. The idea is for the whole family to work together to learn how to live a healthier and fitter lifestyle. It is good that overweight children are allowed to go on the program, it is not restricted to just the obese.

Families refer themselves to the program. The commitment is two 2 hour sessions per week for 9 weeks. It is only for 7-13 year olds.

It seems that once a child is over 13 years then a family can no longer get support. What message does this give parents? To give up trying?

CHIMPS (Child Health Improvement Sessions)

This is an exercise referral scheme for children from 7-15 years of age. Recommendations are made by School Nurses, Gp’s and Practice Nurses.

However, it seems that it is not for those with weight issues, but instead for those with low self esteem, those that exclude themselves from exercise, children with growth and development issues and post surgery rehab.

What About Eating Advice and Diet?

North East Essex’s “Tackling Obesity” scheme seems to only aid obese adults and overweight children. Teenagers and overweight adults are not eligible for help.

The details of the individual schemes are not disclosed, but the emphasis seems to be on activity, even though studies into obese children have shown that diet is the problem and not lack of exercise.

For an obesity scheme to work, it needs to address the following issues:

  • It has to be open to all ages
  • It has to focus on healthy eating before tackling exercise
  • It has to encourage and aid overweight adults as well as the more seriously overweight (obese) people

It is likely that budget constraints are preventing the NHS from tackling obesity properly. Maybe there is a general lack of interest? The Shape Up scheme only runs when 12 people are enrolled. There are many more overweight and obese people in Essex that would benefit from such a scheme, why is the scheme not fully booked all the time?

Maybe the council is keen to avoid people joining up for some free/cheap gym classes – you still need to pay for the CHIMPS sessions.

During these tough economic times with government spending cuts it may be difficult to provide more services. But is this justified? Obesity is fast becoming the biggest drain on the NHS, yet the NHS does not appear to want to tackle the problem until it is too late.

There are no schemes in North East Essex for the families of younger children (less than 6 years) or for adults that are becoming obese. None of the schemes seems to tackle eating problems either. Is the government really doing enough?

Obesity is a ticking time-bomb, but the government seems to be interested only in picking up the pieces after the bomb as exploded rather than attempting to diffuse the problem. More people need more help sooner.


  • North East Essex NHS – The Tackling Obesity service

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