The obesity health threat affecting the nation is now so serious that one in four people are dangerously overweight.
With Britain swiftly following in the footsteps of America for living lifestyles stuck behind desks eating quick fix fast-food, our country is now rated as one of the worst five across the globe on the issue.
According to latest NHS figures, more than 180,000 people across West Sussex are obese, a number which shows no sign of reducing.
Consequently, we’re facing the alarming prospect of a generation of young people whose life expectancy is less than their parents because of increased risk of heart problems, cancer and diabetes linked to obesity.
It’s against this backdrop that consultant surgeon Chris Pring and the small but dedicated team at St Richard’s Hospital are at the forefront of tackling the issue with bariatric weight loss surgery, which is helping transform lives.
Hundreds of residents a year from across the south-east are now receiving such life-changing keyhole gastric-band and permanent surgery operations.
But unlike some who seek to blame either poor lifestyles, inherited genes or a lack of self-discipline, according to Dr Pring there’s only one ‘smoking gun’ at the root cause of the problem – the food industry.
He explains: “There is a massive problem with one in four people being obese. It is resulting in GPs’ surgeries and hospitals being full of people suffering from the mental and physical effects associated with obesity, which is costing £16bn alone to the economy through people not working.
“We’re living in a society that is making us obese, this is no better demonstrated than the fact we’ve got McDonald’s as our main Olympic sponsors. It’s wrong, but we accept it,” says the specialist consultant, a former Cambridge graduate who has gained experience practising in Australia and America.
Arriving at the hospital this autumn, he believes in many instances surgery is the most cost-effective and beneficial method of treating severe medical weight issues.
It is now accessible to far more patients and demand for its services is likely to intensify considerably with predictions of 47 per cent of the UK population expected to be classified as obese by 2025.
Such headline-grabbing figures are a huge cause for concern to Dr Pring, who adds: “I am laying the blame for obesity at the door of the food industry – it produces food with an average calorie count of 3,200 per person, when the human body requires only around 2,200.
“People do have a responsibility for their own health, but they should not be pilloried by people if they are suffering from obesity. There is still very much a stigma surrounding it and the conventional thinking on this is still to blame the individual.
“We have 500 people a year coming to us for bariatric surgery from across the south. We are not doing this to make them thin, it’s for the sake of their health.
“It also costs far less than it would to fund the treatment of all the diseases that are linked to obesity.
“The surgery is so successful that people do not have to have the extended stays in hospital that happen with some forms of surgery. This is going to be the service that puts St Richard’s on the international map.”
Dr Pring is far from being alone on condemning the food industry, with south-east MEP Sharon Bowles recently calling for urgent action on the food industry’s ‘appalling unhealthy ready meals’.
As I receive a tour of the facilities, which include several patient consulting rooms used by the team of three surgeons, we encounter Barbara Bates, who is just emerging from gastric surgery.
The 54-year-old from Surrey appears in optimistic mood after her operation.
“I had tried to deal with my weight for many years, but nothing was working.
“It was suggested to me this was an option and I really hope this has worked and would mean I don’t need any further treatment. Everyone here has been so supportive and kind.”
Another person sharing his faith in surgery is patient Andy Leadbetter-Simms of Rose Green, who underwent treatment at St Richard’s.
He is one of the vast majority whose life have been radically improved.
Coming from a family with a history of heart conditions, he reveals the range of diets which he took on were unable to solve the weight issues.
The 46-year-old, of Hewarts Lane, who had reached a weight of around 19 stone, said: “The surgery saved my life,” explaining his fight to prevent his weight spiralling out of control, which he says is now fully in check.
He adds: “I was diagnosed with type two diabetes and I was on a road to ruin. Not many people realise it’s a hard life with diabetes.
“I just couldn’t have lost the weight without surgery and had dangerously high blood pressure.
“This meant I had to stop doing manual work, I was doing a lot of travelling and not watching what I was eating. The situation was having an effect on my mental state and I’d tried to sort my weight out time and time again,” reveals Andy, who says within months of the surgery he was able to maintain a healthy weight of around 13 stone.
“I’m now very keen to give something back by helping people through internet forums for those who are going through surgery themselves,” adds the former patient, who was surprised to be back at work within several weeks of surgery and believes taking positive action has made a huge difference to his quality of life.