Fat Loss Ops Rise 40%, Obesity Cases Up 30%, 1.2million on Dieting Drugs, Welcome to .. WEIGHT BRITAIN; EXCLUSIVE

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Byline: BY EMILY COOK HEALTH CORRESPONDENT

IT is on a scale far bigger than we feared and threatens the health of the nation.

Obesity is now a full-on timebomb that could cripple the NHS.

Official figures released yesterday revealed the number of people who had weight-loss surgery on the NHS shot up by 40 per cent last year.

Bariatric surgery, as it is known, includes stomach stapling, gastric bypasses and sleeve gastrectomy - where the stomach is reduced to about 15 per cent of its original size.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommend these drastic measures are only carried out as a "last resort".

But NHS Information Centre figures show that more than 2,700 such ops were carried out in 2007-08.

The real figure is likely to be far higher as private operations were not counted.

At the same time, the statistics revealed NHS prescriptions for drugs to treat obesity jumped 16 per cent to above 1.2 million.

And hospital admissions for obesity rocketed by 30 per cent from the previous year to 5,018, including strokes and heart ailments.

Campaigners yesterday said the figures were "horrific" and warned the NHS is struggling to cope with the growing obesity epidemic.

They say more needs to be done to prevent obesity in the first place.

And they are concerned patients may be relying on surgery as a quick fix for their weight problems.

Only the most obese people qualify for surgery on the NHS.

But doctors say they simply cannot keep up with the demand.

Prof Philip James, of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, said: "The number of people being treated by hospitals for obesityrelated problems are just a small fraction of those who are eligible.

"The NHS just does not have the capacity and staff trained to deal with this."

Yesterday Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "The NHS faces bankruptcy if this isn't addressed. This is yet more frightening evidence of the dramatic impact of the obesity crisis, both in terms of the impact on individuals and the cost to the NHS.

"Effective action to tackle obesity is long overdue."

The British Heart Foundation's head of policy Ruairi O'Connor said: "These figures uncover the growing burden to the NHS caused by soaring obesity rates. A full Government response is needed if we are to tackle the obesity timebomb."

Britain already has one of the highest rates of obesity in the world with levels almost doubling in the past 14 years. One in four, or 24 per cent, of men and women areobese compared with 16 per cent of women and 13 per cent of men in 1993.

An official report recently predicted that by 2050, 90 per cent of today's children could be overweight or obese - creating a terrifying range of problems including heart disease and cancer.

Earlier this week it emerged the UK is seeing an explosion of diabetes linked to growing obesity rates.

There has been a 74 per cent rise in new cases from 1997 to 2003.

Obesity is expected to cost the nation pounds 50billion by 2050 if the trend continues - half the modern NHS's annual budget. …