Doctors should prescribe diets for obese people, expert says

Doctors should PRESCRIBE diet plans or hand over vouchers for weight loss classes to help obese patients shed pounds, urges Oxford University expert

  • Prescribed dieting could cost the NHS less than stomach stapling surgeries
  • People should enjoy food but chocolate and cake are not everyday meals
  • 44 per cent of patients manage to lose weight after accepting their GP’s help

Overweight and obese people should be offered more help from the NHS to shed the pounds, according to a leading health and obesity expert.

Professor Susan Jebb, a Public Health England advisor and professor at Oxford University, says doctors should offer vouchers for weight loss classes or prescribe diets.

Calling obesity a burden on the NHS and a drain on people’s quality of life, Professor Jebb also said a tax on unhealthy snacks could subsidise the costs of healthy food.

Two thirds of adults in the UK are thought to be overweight, and 25 per cent are obese. The NHS says one in five 10-11 year-old children are obese.

The condition is the second biggest cancer risk factor after smoking.

Professor Jebb argues obesity should be treated medically by doctors because it is a serious health risk – and GPs should bring it up in appointments.

Professor Jebb says that, although personal choices have a part to play, there should be more help from doctors to combat obesity, less junk food advertising, and healthy foods should be cheaper

Obese people know they are fat, and they are receptive to doctors raising the issue of their weight, and would all benefit from dieting , Professor Jebb told The Times.

She cited a recent trial where 44 per cent of patients accepted their GP’s help and managed to lose weight. Just four out of 1,800 thought it was inappropriate for the doctor to bring it up.

Doctors should suggest weight loss help during appointments

Now working with Public Health England and NICE, Professor Jebb formerly chaired a government committee on obesity.

She was awarded an OBE in 2008 for her services to public health. 

She says offering people vouchers for Slimming World or Weight Watchers, or prescribing meal replacement diets, would be cheaper for the NHS in the long term.

Professor Jebb suggests doctors should proactively raise the issue of helping patients to lose weight when people visit them for something else.

The eight-week replacement diets – consisting of shakes and soups – reduce the symptoms of type 2 diabetes in nearly half of patients and they lose on average of 10kg.

‘Food should be fun’ 

And despite conventional opinion, Professor Jebb says even if people put the weight back on after they lose it, their diabetes risk is lowered.

She told The Times: ‘Food should be fun, enjoyable and sociable, but I worry that many people don’t have a good diet. 


Obesity is a condition in which someone is very overweight and has a lot of body fat.

Generally, people with a BMI of 30+ are considered obese. A BMI of between 18 and 24.9 is healthy.

In the UK an estimated 25 per cent of adults are obese, and 20 per cent of children aged 10-11.

Obesity is a risk factor for diabetes, heart disease and stroke, some types of cancer, and numerous other serious health problems. 

It is generally caused by people eating more calories than they burn off – particularly if their food is high in fat or sugar.

The best way to prevent or tackle obesity is to eat a healthy, balanced diet and to do regular exercise – the NHS recommends between two-and-a-half and five hours per week.

Source: NHS Choices  

‘We have this heightened anxiety now around food and that makes me very sad.’

She also points the finger at advertising, agreeing with celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that junk food ads should not be shown before 9pm.

She hit the news last week by saying people should pay for fuel at the pump to avoid being bombarded by unhealthy snacks on sale in the kiosk.

But there are personal choices to make, as well – saying she enjoys cake and chocolate, too, Professor Jebb adds treats are important, but are not everyday food.

NHS options cheaper than surgery 

She says the weight loss programmes are ‘remarkably cheap’ and that vouchers for weight loss classes cost the NHS £50 for 12 weeks.

More expensive, but still reportedly 20 per cent of the cost of stomach stapling, are the meal replacement diets at £700 for eight weeks. 

Professor Jebb said: ‘Without a doubt that has been shown to be an effective intervention and we should be offering it.’ 

She suggests that obesity could be managed as a chronic condition, and a ‘tough’ programme every five years could benefit patients.  

‘We need to change the world’ 

She also suggests increasing tax paid on unhealthy food could pay for a VAT cut on healthy and ‘core’ foods, meaning poorer people would feel the benefits too. 

In the article Professor Jebb compares the situation to the smoking ban, and said people could not imagine a world without junk food adverts until it happens. 

She adds: ‘People need to understand how the environment is shaping their choices and stop thinking this is all about willpower, because none of us has got an infinite supply of willpower; it’s just how much it is going to take before you crack.

‘We need to change the world.’

A recent study found that people who ate more food – as long as it had a low calorie density – lost more weight than those limiting how much they ate.

The findings, in the Journal of Nutrition, said counting calories was not key to losing weight, and that eating the right kinds of foods actually had more of an impact.

People feel more full but consume fewer calories when they eat larger portions of low-calorie density foods such as pasta, rice, fruit and vegetables.

Eating smaller portions of food high in calories – such as chocolate and crisps – is less filling and leads to more snacking so more calories.

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