SHOCKING new figures have revealed the cost of treating obesity and weight-related diseases was £30.4m in Hartlepool last year.
The figures released by NHS Hartlepool also show that one in three youngsters in the town are classed as obese or overweight by the time they reach 11.
And shockingly a third of all adults in town are classed as obese.
The cost to the NHS in Hartlepool equates to £83,287 a day, and health chiefs fear it is expected to rise.
Over the past five years North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has even invested £24,000 in supersized equipment for obese patients.
The trust, which manages the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton, has bought three specialist beds for patients weighing up to 72-stone.
Health chiefs say the obesity problem is down to wider social and economic deprivation and an action plan has been backed to help tackle the issue.
Hartlepool Borough Council’s cabinet committee met recently to discuss the issue.
A report by Louise Wallace, assistant director of health improvement for NHS Hartlepool, said: “The rate of obesity and overweight in both adults and children in Hartlepool is now significantly higher than the national average.
“The most recent results of the National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) indicate that by Year 6, 20 per cent of children are overweight and 15 per cent are classified as obese.
“Obesity and being overweight costs the NHS over £4bn per year; within Hartlepool alone the annual cost of obesity and overweight for 2010 was £30.4m.
“Unfortunately, the costs are only set to rise in the future as the prevalence of obesity and overweight increases in the population.
“This presents a significant economic burden both to Hartlepool and nationally. Regardless of the economic cost there is a much higher health and personal cost associated with obesity and overweight.”
The cost of treating related diseases across Tees Valley was £174.3m last year.
Obesity is associated with chronic diseases such as type two diabetes and abnormally high blood pressure, which are major risk factors for heart disease.
It is also associated with some forms of cancer, disability, joint problems, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems, fertility problems and could even lead to premature death.
Officials have now joined forces to create a strategy in a bid to establish a “healthy weight culture”.
Health bosses say there are already several programmes running in town through the established Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives Partnership but the action plan will boost that work.
They include healthy food projects, fruit and vegetable bag schemes, specialist weight management programmes, adult and child diabetic services and travel plans in schools that encourage children to walk to school and to be more active.
Steve Wallace, chairman of NHS Hartlepool, said: “There’s a fantastic amount of work going on across the town to tackle the issue.
“It’s great to see partners from the borough council and voluntary and community sector coming together with the local NHS to provide such a great range of initiatives and services.”
But nationally there have been calls for the Government to do more to tackle obesity, backed by 83 per cent of Mail readers in a recent poll.
Health chiefs say there is a raft of reasons why people are obese including family history, poor diet, poor literacy and high levels of unemployment which leads to “food poverty”.
That refers to those who are unable to “choose, buy, prepare, and eat an adequate quantity of good quality food”.
Hartlepool’s unemployment level of 7.4 per cent is nearly double the national average.
The report added: “The increased prevalence and risk of being overweight or obese in Hartlepool is therefore caused by the wider levels of socioeconomic deprivation within the borough.
“There is no biological reason for these inequalities in health and taking no action is not a moral or economic option.”
Research shows that childhood obesity is higher in households where their parents are overweight and overweight children are also more likely to become obese adults.
Specific health-related problems for children include early puberty, skin conditions, eating disorders and respiratory problems.
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