The statistics are truly alarming. According to the National Survey for Wales 2016-7, obesity in Wales is worse than any other UK nation – 59 per cent of adults are overweight, with 23 per cent classed as obese.
Among reception-age children, 26 per cent were found to be overweight or obese during the latest annual Child Measurement Programme in schools, compared to 22 per cent in England. Some 11 per cent of reception-age children were obese in Wales, while across the border the average dropped to nine per cent.
“Obesity in Wales is a true epidemic, both in adults and children,” says Prof Nadim Haboubi, chairman of the Welsh Obesity Society and professor in clinical nutrition and obesity for the University of South Wales.
“The problem is worsening throughout Wales and we are now probably the worst part of Europe in relation to the prevalence of the disease.”
Of even greater alarm is the apparent postcode lottery when it comes to treating obesity here in North Wales.
A recent case highlighted by BBC Wales described how one 35-year-old woman from Wrexham who weighed 34 stone (215kg) was forced to travel to one of Wales’ only doctor-led weight management clinics in Blaenau Gwent.
The 10-hour return journey was necessary due to there being no help for her in North Wales, something Prof Haboubi insists needs to change.
“Services to combat obesity are scarce,” he says. “The Welsh Assembly produced an excellent document titled All Wales Obesity Pathway back in 2010 which you can access on the internet.
“Primarily they divide the management into four levels but the document has never been enforced and it was left to the individual health boards to sort it out in their own way.
“Resources for this pathway were not provided either.
“Until recently only Aneurin Bevan University Health Board provided a comprehensive service and in the last year also Cardiff and Vale managed to expand their services.
“Regrettably, level three of the pathway, which is multi-disciplinary assessment that would individualise treatment, was lacking in most health boards, particularly in North Wales.”
The situation has led to patients in North Wales having to travel across the country or to Salford Royal for surgery due to the lack of doctor-led clinics.
Prof Haboubi added that clinics – like the one he leads in Blaenau Gwent – were “essential” in a society where obesity was increasing as they gave people the tailored help needed to successfully lose weight.
“Efforts are being made by my colleagues from dieticians, GPs and endocrinologists to improve and enhance the services but sadly the process is rather too slow and resources are not made available,” he adds.
“All of the above is in relation to the adult obesity population in Wales.
“When it comes to services for children there is absolutely nothing available throughout Wales.
“Too few bariatric surgeries are performed because the Welsh government commissioned a limited number for this service which is desperately needed by thousands of people. We are simply not compliant with The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines because of the limited resources.”
Prof Haboubi’s frustrations were echoed by Wrexham GP and the Leader’s resident medical expert Dr Peter Saul.
“I have virtually given up asking for my patients to have treatment,” says Dr Saul. “I have had a few patients have successful private treatment but nobody has had NHS treatment.
“It is a crazy situation for example when you get an individual in their early forties. They have been morbidly obese all their lives, they have tried all the diets.
“You know that soon they will have diabetes, soon their hips and their knees will fail, they will get high blood pressure and heart disease, but if we gave them bariatric surgery the chances of all these complications would be significantly reduced very quickly.
“Financially it has to make sense, to treat the people with the most serious weight problems and save money in the long run from having to treat all the complications.”
Adrian Thomas, Betsi Cadwaladr health board’s executive director of therapies and health sciences, said recruitment had started for a new multidisciplinary service for people with severe obesity in North Wales.
“This exciting development will enable us to meet the NICE [The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] guidelines and provide the most appropriate support to people,” he said. “We also anticipate the multi-disciplinary team’s interventions will lead to a reduction in the number of people requiring bariatric surgery.
“Bariatric surgery for people in North Wales is currently performed at the Salford Royal as we do not have the critical numbers to enable surgeons to meet national guidelines.
“We work closely with colleagues in Salford to ensure that our patients are well supported throughout their episode of care and Salford have a pathway in place including a ‘one stop shop’ clinic with all of the relevant specialists required to deliver the service.”