Over three-quarters of NHS trusts do not have a child weight management service, despite being responsible for providing services for obesity in children.
A study from the University of Bristol found that 77% of NHS trusts did no specialist services designed to treat obesity in children. The researchers also observed considerable variation between different areas of the country. They found that 36% of trusts in London, and 32% in the Northeast and Yorkshire provide services to treat obesity in children. Only 4% of NHS trusts in the Midlands offered these services.
The full study has been published in BMJ Open.
Rates of obesity in children are high in the UK
Despite the West Midlands having the highest rates of obesity in children in England, according to 2019/2020 reception National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) data, NHS trusts in the midlands have the lost properties of child weight management services.
The Midlands had the lowest proportion of NHS trusts providing a weight management service (4%), despite the West Midlands has the highest prevalence of severe obesity according to 2019/2020 reception National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) data.
The researchers collected data from Freedom of Information requests which were sent to 148 acute NHS trusts in England between March 2020 and March 2021. Most trusts responded to the requests, however, only 32 provided a child weight management service. This research is the first time that the nature of child weight management services provided by acute trusts in England has been explored.
The results of the study show that multi-service and teaching trusts are more likely to provide a weight management service compared to other acute NHS trusts. The researchers also noticed a lack of consistency in funding sources and eligibility criteria for children for weight management services.
Weight management services need improvement
Official national guidance recommends a multidisciplinary approach to child weight management service provision, however, the researcher’s survey revealed that this was not routinely provided. There was no standardisation in the length of intervention, follow-up periods and outcome measures in the services provided between trusts
“One in five children in England is obese. The sparsely distributed acute NHS trust services revealed in our study will therefore only reach a minute fraction of children living with obesity or severe obesity,” said Dr Ruth Mears, Clinical Research Fellow from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, who was funded by an NIHR In-Practice Fellowship Award for this research
“There needs to be a clear, realistic national strategy outlining who should receive priority for specialist multidisciplinary obesity care,” she added.
Julian Hamilton-Shield, Professor in Diabetes and Metabolic Endocrinology at Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences, said: “The paucity of childhood weight management provision in many areas suggests that many children, young people and their families continue to face inequality in access for local secondary care facilities and will have no obvious route into the regional CEW clinics if needed