Obesity and Chronic Pain

By Steve Dechan

To mark World Obesity Day, the Prime Minister has released a video declaring that dealing with obesity will be a major priority for the NHS going forward and announcing millions of pounds of new investment in this area. Though I welcome this announcement, I believe that in order to deal with obesity in a successful way, we must consider not only its causes, but also its effects.

There is a strong association between obesity and chronic pain. Although there are several conditions linked to obesity, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia and type 2 diabetes, which can result in chronic pain, not all instances of chronic pain are a result of an underlying condition. Indeed, U.S. studies indicate that even when these conditions are disregarded, there is still a firm correlation between pain and obesity.

The specific cause of pain among those with weight management problems can be difficult to identify and typically varies from case to case. In some cases, pain is caused by the strain on joints, while in others, it is caused by metabolic problems. In certain situations, a patient may even be unable to manage their weight. Regardless, one thing is clear: these people are enduring pain, and they need effective relief immediately.

Moreover, obesity is rapidly rising, and is set to affect nearly half of the British population by 2030. The rise of a more sedentary lifestyle during the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated the impact of this. Given the previously mentioned direct and indirect relationships between obesity and chronic pain, as obesity rates continue to surge, it is fair to presume chronic pain will as well.

As well as this, obesity is an issue inherently linked to inequalities in our society, and thus contributes to the well-documented relationship between chronic pain and being from a low-income background. It is vital that we recognise this as we continue to work towards redressing inequality in our country.

It is paramount that future NHS weight management strategies consider the broader implications of obesity and incorporate chronic pain relief. Only then will we start to truly improve quality of life for the millions of British people enduring pain as a result of obesity.