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Significant gaps in child weight management services, NIHR study finds

Child weight services

Published: 06 December 2022

An NIHR funded study found 77% of NHS trusts in England don’t have a child weight management service.

The study collected data between March 2020-2021 from Freedom of Information requests sent to 148 acute NHS trusts in England. It is the first time child weight management services provided by acute trusts in England have been collected.

Of the 94% who responded only 32 provided a child weight management service. This included 36% of trusts in London, 32% in the North East and Yorkshire, and 4% in the Midlands. The West Midlands also has the highest prevalence of severe obesity according to 2019/2020 reception National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) data.

The study was funded by an NIHR In-Practice Fellowship Award and led by researchers at the University of Bristol, who were supported by the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre. It has been published in BMJ Open.

Dr Ruth Mears, Clinical Research Fellow from the Centre for Academic Primary Care at the University of Bristol, said:  “One in five children in England is obese. The NHS trust services who provide services will only be able to reach a tiny number of children with obesity.

“There needs to be a clear and realistic national strategy outlining who should receive priority for obesity care."

The study also found a lack of consistency in funding and eligibility criteria for children to access services. Multi-service and teaching trusts were also more likely to provide a weight management service compared to other acute NHS trusts.

National guidance recommends a multidisciplinary approach to child weight management services. However, the survey of child weight management services found it's not routinely provided. It also found no standardisation of services provided in terms of the length of intervention, follow-up period and outcome measures.

Julian Hamilton-Shield, Professor in Diabetes and Metabolic Endocrinology at Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences, said: “The lack of child weight management services  suggests that many young people and their families will face inequality in access to care facilities.”

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