Obesity is behind a record 1 million hospital admissions

·4-min read
A Measuring Tape on a Weight Scale
Hospital admissions for obesity have reached record levels in England. (Stock, Getty Images)

Obesity was "a factor" in a record 1 million hospital admissions in England in 2019/20, NHS Digital statistics have revealed.

Around two-thirds of adults in England are carrying a dangerous amount of weight, raising their risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even certain cancers.

Amid the pandemic, obesity has long been flagged as a risk factor for coronavirus complications.

In its annual report, NHS Digital has revealed 1.02 million hospital admissions "were recorded with obesity as a primary or secondary diagnosis" in 2019/20.

Read more: Up to two-thirds coronavirus patients in hospital have obesity

One doctor has called the statistics a "wake-up call", adding "we need to tackle obesity".

Eating pizza at night. Close-up
Many people have been comfort-eating amid the pandemic. (Stock, Getty Images)

One who knows the dangers of obesity all too well is Phil Skeates, who was admitted to intensive care with the coronavirus in 2020.

Weighing 25 stone (158kg), Skeates thought he would never see his wife again.

Since overcoming the coronavirus, Skeates has lost more than six stone (38kg).

"I've come through it and I'm not going back," he told the BBC.

Read more: Waist fat stronger predictor of COVID complications than obesity

Around two-thirds of adults in England are overweight, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 29.9. This is more common in men, affecting nearly seven in 10 (68%), compared to six in 10 (60%) women.

Obesity, however, is marginally more common in women, with 29% having a BMI of 30 or above, versus 27% of men.

In the annual "Statistics on Obesity, Physical Activity and Diet" report, data was collected on obesity's prevalence, and how it relates to hospital admissions and prescriptions.

The results reveal 1.02 million "finished admission episodes (FAEs)" were recorded with "obesity as a primary or secondary diagnosis" in 2019/20.

An FAE is defined as "the first period of inpatient care under one consultant within one healthcare provider. FAEs are counted against the year in which the admission episode finishes".

A secondary obesity diagnosis "does not necessarily indicate obesity as a contributing factor for the admission, but may instead indicate obesity is a factor relevant to a patient's episode of care".

Speaking of the statistics, Professor Naveed Sattar from the University of Glasgow told the BBC: "This is a wake-up call. We do need to tackle obesity and we need to take it seriously."

Read more: Food industry 'shares the blame' for coronavirus crisis

The 1.02 million FAEs represent an increase of 17% from 2018/19, however, the NHS has stressed "some of this may be due to improved recording".

The "number of admissions where obesity was recorded as the main cause" was found to have fallen by 3%, from 11,117 in 2018/19 to 10,780 in 2019/20. 

This is reportedly due to a decrease in the number of weight-loss surgeries being performed amid the pandemic.

Overall, women made up nearly two-thirds (64%) of admissions where obesity was a factor.

Watch: Obesity 'major factor' in coronavirus deaths

The report also reveals there were 6,740 finished consultant episodes (FCEs) "with a primary diagnosis of obesity" and "a main or secondary procedure" of weight loss surgery in 2019/20 – down 4% from 2018/19.

An FCE "is a continuous period of admitted patient care under one consultant within one healthcare provider". 

Four in five (80%) weight-loss surgery patients were female in 2019/20.

Many experts are concerned people have gained weight during the pandemic.

In September 2020, a Slimming World study revealed over half of the 800 adults surveyed snacked more, exercised less and comfort-ate during the UK's first lockdown.

To tackle the problem, doctors, academics and campaigners wrote to Boris Johnson in April, urging he stick to a landmark government proposal to ban junk-food advertising online and on social media.

The government says it intends to ban junk-food advertisements on television before 9pm, however, some are concerned the plan may be ditched.

Officials have finished a consultation with the food industry. How far the government is prepared to go with the online restrictions will reportedly be revealed in the next few weeks.

Watch: Childhood obesity during COVID a 'pandemic within a pandemic'