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Northern Ireland first weight-loss surgery unit planned as obesity fears grow

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Richard Pengelly

Richard Pengelly

Richard Pengelly

The cost of dealing with obesity in Northern Ireland has surged by more than 70% in six years.

Almost two-thirds of adults here are overweight or obese.

Nearly £460m is spent on the problem annually, according to the latest figures.

The statistics emerged as the Department of Health revealed it was considering setting up our first dedicated weight-loss surgery unit.

An assessment will be carried out into plans for a bariatric surgery centre at the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen.

A planning group headed by consultant surgeon Mark Taylor and Alastair Campbell, director of hospital services reform, is working on the proposal.

The Department of Health estimates obesity and overweight issues cost £457m in 2015/16 - up from £268m in 2009/10, a rise of 70.5%.

The department said the best approach to dealing with childhood and adult obesity was "appropriate lifestyle measures" such as a healthy diet and exercise. But it added: "There has been growing evidence in recent years that in some cases bariatric (weight loss) surgery can be used as an effective treatment for obese adults who have been diagnosed with other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, and are considered clinically appropriate for treatment."

Weight loss surgery has not been provided within Northern Ireland's health service, although a small number of patients have been funded for the treatment in Britain.

The department said: "In appropriate cases, bariatric surgery can lead to significant weight loss and help improve, or even reverse, some obesity-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

"However, it's a major operation which also requires significant long term lifestyle changes and will only be available to patients meeting specific criteria."

Department of Health permanent secretary Richard Pengelly said: "Today's announcement is a clear signal of intent from the department.

"Establishing regional centres of excellence is a central pillar of our transformation programme for health and social care.

"Obesity is one of the most important public health issues facing Northern Ireland today."

In 2017/18, some 64% of adults here were either overweight or obese, plus 26% of children, figures show.

Being obese can reduce life expectancy by up to nine years and increase the risk of a range of health conditions. These include heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Belfast Telegraph