Today (May 12) is International Nurses’ Day and I’d like to use this as an opportunity to talk about the role nurses and midwives play in prevention and improving health – particularly with regard to tackling obesity.
Obesity is a major global public health challenge and one of Public Health England’s key priorities.
The Chief Nurses of the UK and the Republic of Ireland have prioritised the issue and nurses and midwives can, and already are, using their clinical and public health skills to improve the situation.
Statistics on obesity physical activity and diet show that around two thirds of adults are now overweight or obese.
Childhood obesity is also a particularly worrying trend. One in 5 children are overweight or obese when they begin school, increasing to 1 in 3 by the time they leave primary school.
Being overweight in childhood can have serious implications for the physical and mental health of children. We know for instance that children who are obese are also more likely to be obese in adulthood.
Obese people are at higher risk of life threatening illnesses like Type 2 Diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Not only that, obesity costs the NHS over £6billion each year.
Taking action on obesity: What can nurses and midwives do?
Obesity is complex and there are lots of things which contribute to causing it. That’s why action is needed at multiple levels.
Nurses and midwives have contacts with individuals, families and communities, which provides them with a huge opportunity to support people to make informed choices on how to manage their own health.
For some nurses the place to start may be making every contact count with patients. For other nurses and midwives it may involve working with people, families and communities over the longer term to support people towards a normal weight and increased physical activity. This can make a difference to health and contribute to improved health outcomes in communities.
Like the majority of adults in the UK, two thirds of NHS staff are also overweight or obese.
Nurses and midwives report concerns with dealing with their own weight issues and how that has an effect on helping patients and communities.
Working to achieve a healthy weight and maintaining it can be really challenging and many nurses and midwives work in an environment where high fat and sugar products are always within reach and it’s hard to find time to exercise regularly.
A range of activities are being developed to support employees in making changes to improve their own health and PHE is working with the NHS to support staff lead a healthier lifestyle.
Nurses and midwives have told us that to feel confident in raising issues around weight and encouraging people to make healthy changes, they need training, support and more information and resources.
Today we release an obesity chapter as part of the ‘All Our Health’ online professional resource which sets out actions nurses and midwives can take and what there is available to help them.
If all nurses and midwives respond to ‘All Our Health’ by taking one action, that is approaching half a million actions on obesity, given that this is how many nurses and midwives there are. That would make a visible difference.
If you’d like to read more, you can read a joint message from all the Chief Nurses of the UK and Republic of Ireland as part of International Nurses' Day.