�10 million cost of unhealthy living

THE treatment of unhealthy lifestyles in Suffolk costs the NHS nearly �10million a year, it has emerged.

Lizzie Parry

THE treatment of unhealthy lifestyles in Suffolk costs the NHS nearly �10million a year, it has emerged.

Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, joints and stress are all problems related to unhealthy lifestyles for which health trusts have to account.

The cost is equivalent to 2,000 hip replacements or 340,000 consultations with nurses.

Primary care trusts (PCT) in England spend on average about �5 million a year on costs linked to inactivity, but in Suffolk that figure is nearer �10 million.

Health chiefs say the cost has to be considered in line with population size. NHS Suffolk is responsible for a population of 600,000 whereas some PCTs, such as the London borough of Enfield, are responsible for populations of about 300,000.

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The new figures come as the Government launched the new initiative Be Active, Be Healthy, aimed at reducing the number of people who suffer from health problems linked to a lack of exercise.

Ministers have backed the new initiative to stop the UK becoming “the obesity capital of the world.”

A Department of Health spokeswoman said similar moves had proved successful when giving advice about alcohol and smoking.

GPs will be urged to “prescribe physical activity just as readily as drugs” under the new plans.

When people visit their GP about an ailment doctors will be urged to ask about their patient's level of physical activity.

But in Suffolk health bosses said they had already started the fight against the county's “couch potato culture,” launching new schemes such as Healthy Ambitions last November to kick-start healthy attitudes.

Sally Hogg, head of health improvement partnerships at NHS Suffolk, agreed more needed to be done, especially to address the worrying levels of childhood obesity. She said active steps had to be taken by everybody to help combat the problem of obesity.

“Being active is important for every single person whether they can move quickly or slowly, small changes can make a big difference,” she said. “We have already launched Healthy Ambitions with a new website to enable people from everywhere to become more active.

“One of the most important things to say is we have really good partnership arrangements with Suffolk County Council and the district and borough councils to help combat obesity and get people more active.

“Working well with leisure providers means we are all singing from the same song sheet, giving people a very clear message.”

In Suffolk GPs will be urged to consider exercise as a first tool in tackling weight problems with patients.

In some parts of the county free gym membership and referrals to slimming classes are already used as options for patients with BMI's over 30, before drugs are considered an option.

Mrs Hogg added: “We have very clear pathways for the future, so before people are put on medication and prescribed drugs by their GPs exercise options will be considered.

“This is the right route to be going down. We will be offering other schemes to help people get active and deal with whatever problem they have. We want to ensure all people have access to something to help them lose weight.”

Current figures reveal that one in four adults in Suffolk and one in three children are obese. One in five adults in the county smoke, seven in 10 do not eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and one in six binge drink. Three people die each day in the county from smoking related illnesses.

Mrs Hogg warned childhood obesity was a serious problem that must be addressed immediately if younger generations are to live as long as their parents.

She said: “Childhood obesity is an area we want to make high priority. We are committed to reducing it because for the first time ever it is likely in 50 years children will be dying before their parents.

“That has never happened before not even during the world wars. It has come at us quite quickly over the last 10 years.”