The shock cost of obesity to the region

The shocking cost of eating too much has been revealed at a local level. Health correspondent Sarah Brealey reports, and looks at whether parents are to blame for child obesity.

Fat people are costing the NHS in Norfolk and Waveney £255m a year, according to shocking new figures.

NHS Norfolk had the sixth-biggest bill in the country last year for disease caused by being overweight or obese. Weight-related illness such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and strokes cost an average of £258 for every man, woman and child in NHS Norfolk's area last year.

It is partly because Norfolk is a large area, but also because eastern England has the highest rate of overweight adults in the country - though not the worst rate of obesity.

And an increasingly weighty population means that by 2015 the cost is expected to rise even further - from £188.7m in Norfolk to £209.4m, and from £65.4m in Yarmouth and Waveney to £72.6m, and from £146.4m in Suffolk to £162.5m.

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The total cost to the NHS in England last year was a massive £4.2bn. The figures are not for all disease in which being overweight is a factor - the figure for this is £17.4bn nationally - but the number estimated to be caused by excess weight.

The figures come from a report called Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, which is designed to give the councils and NHS locally information about the problems in their area, together with ideas about what to do about it.

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This autumn the government is launching a campaign targeted at families, encouraging them to eat more healthily and do more exercise. Called Change4Life, the major publicity drive will start in January.

The east of England has the highest rate of overweight men and women in the country, at 48pc for men and 36pc for women. 'Overweight' is defined as with a body mass index of between 25 and 30. But the region has fewer obese people - with a body mass index of more than 30 - than some areas, so it is not the worst area for weight problems overall. In Norfolk the rate of obesity is 28pc, with Yarmouth and Breckland the worst areas.

The NHS locally is also concentrating its effort on children, on the basis that changing habits in the young is most likely to work. Lucy MacLeod, NHS Norfolk's health improvement specialist, said: "These figures don't surprise us. It is because of these scary facts and figures that we put such great importance in encouraging people to recognise that healthy weights can lead to healthier lives.

"There is a very real cost to the NHS as a result of obesity-related diseases. But the cost is much greater for the person who suffers a massive heart attack at a young age because of a lifetime of unhealthy eating habits. Or the woman who spends her latter years in a wheelchair after suffering circulatory complications from type 2 diabetes brought on by obesity."

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: "Obesity is the biggest health challenge we face - every year 9,000 people die prematurely. The Change4Life campaign will help us all to change the way we eat, the way we exercise and the way we raise our children so we can prevent obesity and related diseases."

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