Pharmacists Pitch In To Help Tackle Obesity

Dr Rob Hicks

January 25, 2022

High street pharmacists have been enlisted to help fight the battle of the rising numbers of people who are obese.

Current figures from the NHS Health Survey for England (2019) estimate that over 1 in 4 (28%) adults are obese. The link between obesity and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers is well-recognised, as is the association with increased risk of dying from COVID-19 infection.

Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England, said: "The NHS’s radical action plan means it is now easier for people to take control of their health – adults with obesity can now walk into any high street community pharmacy to take the first step on a life-changing weight loss journey."

Hundreds More Weight Management Referrals Predicted in Coming Weeks

Until now, a GP consultation was required for a patient to be referred to the free NHS Weight Management Programme. The NHS said that to date over 50,000 adults have been referred to the scheme. However, going forward, community pharmacists will be able to refer appropriate people too, the prediction being that hundreds more people will be referred via this route in the coming weeks.

All 11,000 pharmacies in England have a trained 'Healthy Living Champion' who provides health information and signposts patients to relevant health services to enable them to live healthier lifestyles. From now on trained pharmacy staff will work with people who want to lose weight and signpost them to a range of resources and available support, including the NHS weight management programme.    

Access to the online scheme is currently limited to those adults living with obesity, who also have a diagnosis of diabetes, or hypertension, or both these conditions.

Others excluded from the scheme include those who are pregnant, those with a diagnosed eating disorder, and those who have had bariatric surgery within the last 2 years.

Internet Connection Required

The goal is to not only help people lose weight, but also to reduce the risk of people suffering the complications of type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The NHS says that: "Diabetes is estimated to cost the NHS £10 billion a year, with almost 1 in 20 GP prescriptions for a diabetes treatment." 

The NHS predicts that the growing number of people with diabetes could result in nearly 39,000 extra people suffering a heart attack in 2035, and over 50,000 experiencing a stroke.

The 12-week online behavioural and lifestyle programme is accessed via a computer or a smartphone, and provides exercise and diet plans, plus access to other apps. Some people will also be able to get one-to-one training and support in an effort to reduce health inequalities by providing additional coaching for groups who are less likely to complete behavioural and lifestyle programmes.

The three levels of support are:

  • Level 1: access to digital content only

  • Level 2: access to digital content plus 50 minutes of human coaching over the 12 weeks

  • Level 3: access to digital content plus 100 minutes of human coaching over the 12 weeks

Robert Pettifer, a pharmacist in Warwickshire, said: "Pharmacies play a vital role in the health and wellbeing of our communities, and it’s great that we can now refer people to this new weight loss programme."   

He added: "Trained pharmacy teams can support you on a journey to a healthier lifestyle – using simple online plans."


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