It’s an epidemic that existed before COVID-19 but has been intensified by it. The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) has partnered up with Novo Nordisk to better equip pharmacies to tackle obesity.
Around two-thirds of adults in the UK are above a healthy weight. Over 1 in 3 children leaving primary school are already overweight or obese.1
People who are overweight or living with obesity and contract coronavirus are more likely to be admitted to hospital or die from that disease.2
The NHS spends an estimated £6 billion per year treating obesity-related ill-health (estimated figure from 2019).3
In July 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson personally launched a strategy for empowering adults and children to tackle obesity. It included new measures on food labelling and extra investment in weight management services.4 Amongst the new NHS UK measures, a free online weight loss programme which people living with obesity can now access via referral from community pharmacies. In Northern Ireland there is the Health+Pharmacy initiative and Living Well scheme both of which have addressed obesity5,6 and Scotland has a self-referral service which community pharmacies can signpost to.7, 8
FPH President Professor Maggie Rae told InPharmacy that “as a frontline NHS service” community pharmacists have a “vital public health role to play in preventing obesity-related ill-health.”
She says: “With pharmacists enjoying high levels of public trust… pharmacists should be empowered – and resourced – to deliver healthcare advice and interventions to tackle obesity.”
Maggie added that obesity is more prevalent in deprived areas. “It is important that we understand obesity as a disease rooted in inequality, with rates of obesity-related hospital admissions over twice as high in the most deprived parts of the UK compared to the least deprived,” she says.
“Food bank usage is increasing, and deprived communities are experiencing rising rates of food insecurity, we must address inequalities at their root in order to tackle the obesity crisis.”
It’s a view echoed by the NPA which represents the majority of independent community pharmacies in the UK. Helga Mangion, Policy Manager at the NPA says that community pharmacy in the UK “bucks the inverse care law and that means there are more pharmacies in deprived areas than any other.”9
She says: “We are face to face with the public and we can enhance our preventative role through recognising the signs that could lead to obesity, and then intervene. For instance - signs that could lead to obesity include mental health, chaotic lifestyles, certain prescribed medicines, as well as specific diseases. Community pharmacy, being at the heart of its community, could also provide similar services for obese children and support their families.”
Helping community pharmacies provide a weight management service
To help community pharmacies provide access to high quality care, the NPA is working with global healthcare company Novo Nordisk, who specialise in creating treatments for people living with diabetes, obesity, and rare blood and endocrine diseases. This project has been set up with the aim of upskilling community pharmacists on obesity as a disease, alongside providing support to community pharmacists so they are better able to offer weight management advice and services to patients.
Adam Burt, Senior Director for Obesity at Novo Nordisk told InPharmacy that community pharmacists play a key role in advising patients on health issues, including those related to weight.
“They have regular interactions with patients and are trusted voices in the community. This has been further reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic when many people have utilised their local pharmacy services more than ever.”
Addressing the “unmet need in obesity” is a key priority for Novo Nordisk says Adam.
“Obesity is a serious chronic disease which poses a range of other health risks – from type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, to severe outcomes from COVID-19. Our ambition is to ensure that obesity is recognised and managed as a disease, and to offer medical treatment tto help effective management of the disease.”
“As well as developing medications to help the management of obesity, Novo Nordisk are also committed to providing a range of support including raising awareness of the science of obesity and challenging the stigma that is often experienced by people living with this condition.”
“In the UK there are currently very limited treatment options, including pharmacotherapy, available for people living with obesity. We hope in the future to be able to provide a range of treatment solutions for people living with obesity.”
According to Adam tackling obesity is an “overarching strategy”, that encompasses various weight management services and campaigns that can help individuals achieve a healthier weight, while potentially contributing towards healthier communities.
“Obesity is a complex disease that requires long-term management.10 It is influenced by many different factors many of which are beyond an individual’s control.11 Given the complexity of this disease, it is important that healthcare professionals take a holistic approach to supporting people living with obesity as different weight management approaches will work differently for different people.”
“Exercise can play a key role, together with medication and other interventions. Another key factor in helping to tackle obesity is addressing the ingrained societal misconceptions and stigma that people living with obesity face on a regular basis. Stigma and judgemental attitudes can stop people from seeking help for their weight and what’s more, it can contribute to additional weight gain.”12
“We hope that our partnership with the National Pharmacy Association will help to put community pharmacy at the heart of weight management, and provide people living with obesity with access to high quality care and support from local trusted pharmacists.”
Janita Patel, Learning and Development Pharmacist at the NPA and Project Lead for the Weight Management and Obesity campaign, told InPharmacy that by providing a weight management service, community pharmacies can also help grow the pharmacy’s clinical services.
“Pharmacy teams also gain confidence in delivering more clinical services and drive footfall to the pharmacy,” she says.
NPA members can start their journey into providing weight management services by undertaking the Medicated Weight Management training via ECG which is available in eLearning and webinar formats.
1. Royal College of Physicians. RP Position Statement. What the RCP thinks about…obesity. 2018. Available at https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/ projects/outputs/what-rcp-thinks-about-obesity. Access date: April 2022
2. Public Health England. Excess Weight and COVID-19 Insights from new evidence. July 2020. Available at Excess Weight and COVID-19 (publishing.service.gov.uk). Access date: April 2022
3. NHS Digital England. 2020. Health Survey for England 2019 Overweight and Obesity in Adults and Children. Available at http://files.digital.nhs.uk/9D/4195D5/HSE19-Overweight-obesityrep.pdf Access date: April 2022
4. GOV.UK. Department of health and Social Care. Press release, 27 July 2020. New obesity strategy unveiled as country urged to lose weight to beat coronavirus (COVID-19) and protect the NHS. Available at:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-obesity-strategy-unveiled-as-country-urged-to-lose-weight-to-beatcoronavirus-covid-19-and-protect-the-nhs. Access date: May 2022
5. Health + Pharmacy. Available at: https://hscbusiness.hscni.net/services/2443.htm. Access date: May 2022
6. Living Well. Available at: https://hscbusiness.hscni.net/services/3035.htm. Access date: May 2022
7. Specialist Weight Management Service https://www.nhsggc.org.uk/your-health/healthy-living/manage-yourweight/community-weight-management-service/referral/. Access date: May 2022
8. Lanarkshire Weight Management Service https://www.nhslanarkshire.scot.nhs.uk/services/weight-management-service/. Access date: May 2022
9. Todd A et al. BMJ Open, 2014. The positive pharmacy care law: an area-level analysis of the relationship between community pharmacy distribution, urbanity and social deprivation in England. http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2014-005764
10. Bray G et al. Obesity: a chronic relapsing progressive disease process. A position statement of the World Obesity Federation. Obesity Reviews, 2017; 18;715-723
11. Wright SM, Aronne LJ. Causes of obesity. Abdom Imaging. 2012; 37(5):730-732
12. Obesity UK, Obesity for Thought. 2020. Language Matters: Obesity. Available at: https://www.obesityuk.org.uk. Access date: April 2022
For more information please visit our ‘Getting started’ page on the NPA Weight Management and Obesity in Community Pharmacy Hub. Our ‘Setting up your service’ page on the hub gives you all the necessary steps to consider when setting up your service.
If you set up a weight management service you will receive further support from a business development manager at Novo Nordisk.
The NPA and Novo Nordisk are working collaboratively to support independent community pharmacies in delivering services to assist their patients with weight management and obesity.