To tackle an ever-worsening obesity problem in the U.K., policymakers in the London area of Westminster are currently mulling over a controversial plan that could see some overweight Britons losing welfare benefits if they fail to follow doctors' advice to exercise.
Time magazine, citing a report in the BBC, explains that the measure is one of many proposed in a new series of public policy recommendations by the Westminster Council and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU), a British think tank. The plan could be enacted as soon as April 2013, when the nation's government begins allowing local governments more control over how public funds are spent.
"The proposals are intended to be part of a massive cost-savings plan for when local council governments control more than $3.25 billion in public money that formerly went to Britain’s national health service for public health campaigns," Time magazine writes.
Under the new policy recommendations, which have been laid out in a report entitled "A Dose of Localism: The Role of Council in Public Health," local councils have been encouraged to link "welfare measures to behaviors that promote public health." That includes the possibility of incentivizing healthy behavior, as well as cutting the benefits of overweight claimants who fail to exercise despite a doctor's suggestion to do so.
The new LGiU report states that Britain's annual health care costs total £110 billion, which is more than $176 billion. As the country's obesity problem worsens and its citizens age, these costs are expected to rise. "One-fifth of Britons will reach 100 and the number of Britons who are overweight will increase by 10 per cent over the next decade," the report reads. "An aging population and growing obesity levels will increase cases of dementia, diabetes and heart disease. These conditions impose an enormous financial burden on the NHS."
Ultimately, the report warns, preventive measures will likely be far cheaper and more effective than future medical treatments.
But proposed program is not without its critics. British Medical Association member Dr. Lawrence Buckman told the BBC he found the idea "draconian and silly." Susannah Gilbert, spokeswoman for the obesity support organization Big Matters, told the paper that a more "holistic" approach to tackling obesity is necessary.
Some, like Professor John Wass of the Royal College of Physicians, don't think the idea will work at all. "For people to lose weight, they must want to lose weight, and I have concerns about forcing the public to exercise. If we want to solve a problem this big, we need to look at the bigger picture," Wass told Public Service Publications.
The British government has been testing various alternative programs in an attempt to tackle its population's weight problem. In 2011, for example, testing began on a program that paid people to lose weight or make healthy lifestyle changes. "The program paid people up to the equivalent of $662 if they hit their weight-loss target and maintained it for about two years," writes CBS News. "Experts found that 400 people in a 2008 trial lost an average of nearly 15 pounds and kept it off for at least one year."
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