Sally Norton, bariatric surgeon, on NHS weight loss policy

Dr Sally Norton

Dr Sally Norton

Commenting on recent NICE recommendations that the NHS funds weight management programmes such as Rosemary Conley, Slimming World and Weight Watchers in order to address obesity,

Sally Norton, Consultant Bariatric and General Surgeon and Founder and Medical Director of Vavista, says, “I welcome the recent NICE guidelines to help the two-thirds of our population who are overweight or obese. The NICE recommendation rightly notes that weight management programmes should be assessed to ensure that they deliver meaningful weight loss beyond a year, the hard facts are that weight-loss programmes, such as Weight Watchers, rarely do. Richard Samber, a former finance director of Weight Watchers has said that the financial success of the company ($31 million profit last year) lay in the fact that 84% of people regained weight. Having spent years sitting in clinic listening to patients tell me how they have lost and regained weight on more diets than I can count, I do not want to start people on the dieting merry-go-round, where weight regain is more common than weight loss.”

Dr Norton argues that obesity is too big an issue for the NHS to tackle alone. “Engaging the help of private initiatives may seem a sensible solution,” she say, “But shifting responsibility without good evidence of long-term success is not the answer. In trials, it was noted that the average weight loss in lifestyle weight management programmes was just 3%, or only 1.5kgs at two years. I would question how many people outside a trial would attain even that modest degree of weight loss. According to the NICE economic analysis, the cost of a £100 weight loss programme is only worthwhile if a person loses 1kg and keeps this weight difference for life. If someone regains weight within two-to-three years or less, the money spent was worthless.”

She concludes, “As an NHS employee and a tax-payer, I want us to try harder to develop more holistic behaviour change programmes that really work, backed by robust long-term data, before we encourage commissioners to spend NHS resources on them. Until then, I believe money would be better spent on such things as encouraging industry to provide healthier choices for consumers, addressing the sale of fizzy drinks in schools and asking the NHS to lead by example by replacing those hospital vending machines full of chocolate and crisps with something much healthier.”

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