Obesity played a role in just over one million hospital admissions in England in 2019/20 – a 17% jump on the previous year.
New data from NHS Digital shows a rise in the number of people admitted to hospital where obesity was a primary or secondary factor.
Women accounted for almost two thirds (64%) of the hospital cases, while obesity admissions were twice as likely in the most deprived areas of the country compared to the least deprived.
A total of 1,022,000 hospital admissions overall had obesity as a primary or secondary factor, a 17% rise on the 876,000 the year before.
Within these figures, there was a 3% drop in the number of admissions where obesity was the major reason – most of those cases were admissions for weight-loss, bariatric surgery.
NHS Digital said some of the overall rise may be due to better reporting of data.
The Government has announced a raft of new measures to help tackle obesity, including a ban on junk food adverts online and calories on menus for meals.
Boris Johnson, who once pledged to review “stealth sin taxes” such as those on sugary drinks, has thrown his weight behind new obesity measures after saying his own extra pounds played a role in his struggle with Covid last year.
The NHS Digital study also found that the number of prescribed items for obesity treatment dropped by 17% in 2020 to 294,000 items from 355,000 the year before.
The cost of these drugs fell 16% in 2020 to £8.8m.
Some 27% of men and 29% of women in England are obese, while about two thirds of adults are overweight or obese.
Children living in the most deprived areas are more than twice as likely to be obese than those living in the least deprived areas.
Overall, 9% of adults are classed as inactive.
NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis said: “Today’s shocking figures are a growing sign of the nation’s obesity crisis which is putting hundreds of thousands of people at greater risk of becoming severely ill with Covid, as well as heart attacks, stroke, cancer and other deadly diseases.
“Carrying extra pounds not only puts a strain on your physical health, but also on the health service.
“As lockdown restrictions start to ease, there has never been a better time to take steps to live a healthier lifestyle.
“If you think you are at risk of developing diabetes, you can check your risk online and sign up to support from the Healthier You NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme.”
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Serious conditions such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease can have a devastating impact on our patients’ long-term health and wellbeing, and are all linked to obesity.
“Obesity-related conditions also cost the NHS billions every year, so whatever we can do to tackle obesity, both in the health service and as a society, the better for our patients’ health, and for the NHS overall.
“It is important that healthcare professionals, including GPs and their teams, have access to a variety of options that will support patients to make maintainable lifestyle changes, such as community and hospital-based weight management services – many of which access will have been limited to or not available during the pandemic.”