Obesity is prevalent throughout the world and poses a major challenge to public health both nationally and worldwide. A recent report by the (World Health Organisation, 2018) found that the rate of patients being diagnosed with obesity globally has tripled since 1975 and these levels are continuing to rise at an alarming rate. These statistics raise the controversial question as to whether patients suffering from obesity should be treated. Therefore, this essay will focus on whether the NHS should fund treatment for obesity, as it is regarded by some as a self-induced disease which patients have arguably inflicted upon themselves through reckless and excessive dietary habits. However, this is complicated by the argument that though obesity may be self-induced, the UK’s National Health Service exists to assist its citizens through whatever form of illness or disease they may be suffering, and as such obesity should not perceived as something which the patient has “brought” upon themselves. Furthermore, I will be exploring how recent debates draw comparison between smoking and obesity and the unfairness that surrounds the treatment of these two different diseases.
Obesity is an increasingly common condition in which a large amount of excess fat has accumulated in the body (Peters, 1999) and thus an obese person is defined as having a body mass index of higher than 30 which is calculated using the person’s height and weight. As a result, obesity is a known risk factor for causing Type 2 diabetes due to patients’ unhealthy and in some cases, irresponsible lifestyle choices. This is something which could be mitigated if patients altered their habits. On a national scale, the rise of obesity within the UK predicates the termination of the NHS as their budget is considered unsustainable which could result in the privatization of the NHS. This raises a larger ethical question regarding the nature of treatment, and who it should be administered too. Indeed, some patients are genetically liable to suffer from obesity – and in this instance it is not necessarily a self- induced disease but one that is inevitable. Furthermore, some patients also have little understanding of obesity and its risks, or even, despite attempting to change their lifestyle, they may have had little success. Thus, it is unfair and unethical that professionals working in a national health system (such as the UK’s NHS) should decide whether a patient should be treated or not, as ultimately obese patients should be given equal and measured treatment in the same way any other patient would be.
This moral point of contention is explored by Alasdair Palmer, as he writes that these “rationing decisions” could have “cruel and heartless consequences,” (Palmer, 2012). As such, it could be argued that healthcare should be provided and available to everyone regardless of their lifestyle, background and financial obligations, as it is deemed a basic human right.
Although healthcare is expensive to maintain, as doctors, it is important that they do not discriminate against groups of patients in order to save money as “targeting such groups may risk unfairly isolating them and undermining the fundamental NHS principle to treat all patients” (Marx, 2016) fairly. This hints at the way in which the function of the NHS is transitioning towards a privatised health care service, and as such moving away from its founding principles and its uniqueness in providing citizens with access to healthcare.