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Obesity and middle class drinking could sink NHS

17 October 2007
Regular drinking amongst the middle-class, not just binge drinking, is putting increasing pressure on health services, new research from the North West Public Health Observatory has revealed, and, according to the National Obesity Forum, undertaking the issue of obesity could bankrupt the NHS.

The research from the NWPHO found that middle class areas, such as Harrogate, Guildford and Woking, are more susceptible to consuming ‘hazardous’ amounts of alcohol – 22-50 units for men and 15-35 units for women – whereas lower-class areas such as Manchester, Liverpool and Kingston Upon Hull, are more prone to ‘harmful’ levels of alcohol consumption – more than 50 units for men and 35 units for women.

Across the UK, there are varying levels of both hazardous and harmful drinkers. It was found that between14.1 and 26.4 per cent of the population are hazardous drinkers, and from 3.2 to 8.8 per cent are harmful drinkers. The new research concentrates on the middle class, habitual wine drinkers that are damaging their health, illustrating that binge drinking is not the only major concern when it comes to alcohol abuse.

The levels of drinking – whether harmful or hazardous – are putting immense pressure on the heath services to cope with the fall-out, which includes high hospital admission figures for illnesses – such as liver and circulatory diseases and cancer – and accidents and assaults caused by drunkenness.

Professor Mark Bellis, Director of the North West Public Health Observatory said. “While much attention has been paid to binge drinking, less discussion has focused on the damages associated with routinely consuming too much alcohol. Across England around one in five adults are drinking enough to put their health at significant risk and one in twenty enough to make disease related to alcohol consumption practically inevitable.”

“We need to tackle binge drinking and all the short term social and health consequences associated with such behaviour. However in order to stop further increases in alcohol-related deaths and admission to hospital, we must also reverse the tolerance that most communities have built up by simply consuming too much alcohol on a weekly basis.”

Obesity has also been pegged as a potential iceberg for the National Health Service. Last year, it was found that 22.8 per cent of five year old children and 31.1 per cent of 11 year olds were overweight or obese.

Obesity is costing £2.3 billion a year in health and other costs – a figure which is expected to rise to £2.6 billion by 2010. The NHS shoulders approximately £1 billion of this fee, but it has been predicted that half of the population will be obese by 2050, so this figure is expected to rise considerably.

Colin Waine of the National Obesity Forum commented: “These figures make disturbing reading when you think about the implications for the future health of these children and the demands they will make on the NHS.”

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