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'The obesity epidemic shows no signs of slowing – but pharmacy can help'

Community pharmacies could play a crucial role in helping to address rising obesity rates, National Pharmacy Association (NPA) policy manager Helga Mangion suggests

One of my roles at the NPA is to examine all the ways our profession can help improve population health.

That’s why I still find it strange that there are still no nationally commissioned services through pharmacy to tackle an epidemic that existed long before COVID-19 – I’m talking about the obesity epidemic.

The NHS spends an estimated £6 billion per year treating obesity-related ill-health. So why is it that community pharmacies, which provide a frontline NHS service, are still not empowered or properly resourced to prevent obesity-related ill-health?

At the NPA, we have been championing the fact that pharmacies should be operating as community health centres, disseminating public health information, and helping their patients to manage risk factors.

Yet community pharmacies are still on the periphery when it comes to commissioned public health initiatives.

So, how can community pharmacy get involved and provide effective weight management services for obese patients?

The NPA launched a report on the subject at the Pharmacy Show yesterday (October 16), where I spoke about this in more detail at the Food for Thought theatre.

The report is largely based on an obesity roundtable, organised by the NPA, where the main recommendation from patients was for more NHS-commissioned services for young people and children living with obesity.

Public health consultants, community pharmacists and those living with obesity came up with seven action points that would enable better NHS services for those living with obesity.

The virtual event was chaired by Professor Maggie Rae, president of the Faculty of Public Health, and featured representatives from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Royal Society for Public Health, Patients Association, UK Health Security Agency, Diabetes UK and NHS England.

The roundtable also heard testimony from a parent of a young adult living with obesity and a presentation of the personal experience of someone living with the condition by Sarah Le Brocq, director of campaign group All About Obesity.

It was great to see so many healthcare professionals bringing together their expertise in one place and I’m delighted that the NPA was able to facilitate such an important conversation.

We need policy makers to recognise and acknowledge the link between obesity, deprivation, health inequalities and lack of access to obesity services, and encompass these seven recommendations into a nationwide obesity strategy.

This should be followed by a rollout of person-orientated obesity services over the next two years – in particular encompassing the specific health needs of young adults living with obesity – making full and proper use of the more than 14,000 community pharmacies across the UK to do so.

There is a place and role for community pharmacy to provide obesity services. Community pharmacists and their teams are already providing a raft of public health services that contribute to the top public health priorities, including the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Let us, as a profession, rise to the challenge and demonstrate that community pharmacists are indeed key to addressing the obesity epidemic. 

 

Helga Mangion is policy manager at the NPA

The NPA has created the NPA weight management and obesity in community pharmacy hub to help its members with all the necessary steps to consider when setting up setting up weight management and obesity services in their pharmacy.

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