THE nation’s love of fatty foods has sparked a huge increase in people having their gallbladder removed, landing the NHS with a bill for more than £300million.
By: Matthew Davis and Lucy Johnston
Diets high in fat and cholesterol can trigger painful gallstones, where the cure is normally the removal of the gallbladder.
NHS figures show that the number of people seen by a hospital consultant about this has soared 41 per cent in nine years.
Almost 70,000 people who need the procedure currently have hospital appointments and nearly 200 people a day actually have the operation.
Most gallbladder operations are by keyhole surgery, enabling quicker recovery and a shorter hospital stay.
However, the bill for such treatment is still not cheap and private operations can cost more than £6,000.
The average age of a patient undergoing a cholecystectomy has also fallen in recent years to 51, as the problem now more frequently affects those in middle age.
Figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show there were 69,728 hospital appointments last year linked to gallbladder removal operations.
Nine years ago that number was 49,288.
It is crucial that young people are alerted to the outcomes triggered by eating too much fatty food
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum
The gallbladder stores bile that is pushed into the stomach to help it break down food.
Experts believe that a high fat diet can trigger the production of gallstones, which can be incredibly painful.
In most cases the easiest treatment is to remove the gallbladder as most people can function without it and not notice any difference, although some patients have to move to a lower fat diet.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “There are more and more things coming through, which end up putting a strain on the NHS, that are linked to obesity.
“I’m not surprised at these figures but the tragedy is they will continue to rise unless something is done to tackle the problem of obesity.
“More people are becoming obese and those people who are already obese are becoming more obese.
“Teenagers who are overweight or obese are particularly at risk.
"Those who are even moderately obese are four times more likely to have gallstones than those with a normal body mass index.
“It is yet another indication that obesity related conditions are being seen at increasingly younger ages, with the acknowledged possibility of premature death.
"With this in mind, it is crucial that young people are alerted to the outcomes triggered by eating too much fatty food.”
Leading nutritionist Gillian Hamer blamed Britons’ love of processed foods and fats.
She said: “Butter, full fat yogurt and cream are not the cause.
"The problem is the bad processed fats found in cakes and overeating processed fats.
“Faddy diets are not the answer either.
"Cutting out any group of foods is not good for you and may lead to problems like gallstones,” she added.
Anton Emmanuel, medical director at Core, a charity that funds research into all diseases of the gut, liver and pancreas, said:
“The increase in cholecystectomy relates in part to the increase in obesity and in part due to the advances in technology permitting safer gallbladder removal compared to the older days of more complex, potentially adverse effect-causing open surgery.”
He said sudden weight changes, such as crash diets, could also lead to the risk of gallstones.
“This may explain some of the increased incidence in younger patients,” he said.