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NHS to develop diet coach apps and weight loss medicines to help people shed the pounds

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 27/11/2022 Laura Donnelly
Obesity already costs the NHS £6bn a year and is forecast to reach almost £10bn by 2050 - Dominic Lipinski/PA © Dominic Lipinski/PA Obesity already costs the NHS £6bn a year and is forecast to reach almost £10bn by 2050 - Dominic Lipinski/PA

The NHS is to roll out diet coach apps and medicines that could help people lose up to a fifth of their weight.

Ministers will on Sunday announce a £20 million research project to develop digital tools and medicines which can help people shed the pounds.

Almost two in three adults in England are overweight or obese, fuelling record levels of diabetes, heart disease and other deadly diseases.

Obesity already costs the NHS £6bn a year, and is forecast to reach almost £10bn by 2050.

The new programme will see cutting-edge obesity medicines and technology fast-tracked, in a bid to help millions of people to lose weight.

The fund will help develop new medicines and digital technologies, such as apps and online portals, which encourage lifestyle changes. Officials said research so far had found some tools and treatments could help people lose up to a fifth of their weight.

One third of those prescribed the drug Semaglutide in trials lost up to 20 per cent of their body weight. The medicine, which works by hijacking the body's own appetite regulating system in the brain - leading to reduced hunger - has been described as “game-changing”.

A study of diabetes drug Tirzepatide found patients put on the highest dose of the drug on average lost a fifth of their body weight.

Some parts of the NHS already offer behavioural coaching via apps, as well as trackers and calorie counters.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said he will fast-track the most promising treatments and technologies to NHS patients - Jason Roberts/PA © Provided by The Telegraph Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said he will fast-track the most promising treatments and technologies to NHS patients - Jason Roberts/PA

Other schemes being tested include brain training on smartphones to help dieters to resist temptation. One study by Cardiff University found using online games to boost willpower can help to cut 200 calories a day. Participants were asked to push a button when shown an image of healthy foods, such as broccoli - and to do nothing when junk foods, such as cheeseburgers and crisps, were on display. Scientists said the short games can help to retrain impulses, making it easier to resist tempting treats.

Steve Barclay, the Health and Social Care Secretary, said: “Having a fit and healthy population is essential to reducing pressure on the NHS and supporting the economy with obesity, currently estimated to cost the NHS nearly £10 billion per year by 2050.

“We are fast-tracking the most promising treatments and technologies to NHS patients to help them achieve a healthy weight, save the NHS billions of pounds and increase life expectancy.

“We are determined to harness the full potential of innovative medical breakthroughs to level up the health of the nation.”

Four healthcare missions to launch

An open competition will be run early next year to identify sites to deliver the research, in areas outside of London and the Greater South East, in the areas where obesity rates and health disparities are highest.

On Monday the government will announce a Vaccine Taskforce approach to tackling some of the leading public health issues which damage the economy and drain NHS resources.

Four healthcare missions will be launched, covering obesity, cancer, mental health and addiction to quickly develop and deliver new treatments, technology and support to patients to help them lead longer, healthier lives.

Officials said the plans aim to harness the successes of the Covid response and accelerate the delivery of innovation to patients.

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Earlier this year the World Health Organisation warned that reliance on apps for food deliveries has fuelled Britain’s obesity problem.

The WHO said Britain will become the fattest nation in Europe within a decade thanks to a “Deliveroo culture” fuelled by the pandemic.

Their damning 220-page report warns of “alarming” trends that mean that almost four in 10 Britons will soon be obese.

Researchers said modern lifestyles were cutting lives short, with excess weight now responsible for 1.2 million deaths in Europe every year.

Motivational coaches on the NHS

They said the growth of meal delivery apps - such as Deliveroo and Just Eat - during the pandemic was fuelling Britain’s record obesity rates, which will leave it topping the obesity league tables by 2033.

The global study shows that the UK is already one of the fattest nations, with Turkey at 32.1 per cent and Malta at 28.9 per cent. While 27.8 per cent of adults are currently classed as obese, this figure is forecast to reach 37 per cent by 2033.

Already, overweight people will be given “motivational coaches” on the NHS in a radical attempt to halt Britain’s diabetes time bomb.

Nine month programmes have been offered telephone coaching, along with one-to-one and group sessions on weight loss, physical activity and diet.

Last year NHS chiefs announced that children as young as two will be prescribed diet coaches as part of a national drive against obesity.

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