MORE than 20,000 prescriptions for anti-obesity drugs have been administered in Barnsley in the last five years - at a cost of more than £500,000.

Currently, orlistat is the primary weight loss drug prescribed by the NHS and has been approved for use since 2010.

Orlistat, commonly sold under the brand name Xenical, is available on prescription from doctors, or can be bought at a pharmacy where it must be taken under the supervision of a pharmacist.

The tablet works by preventing around a third of fat from food being absorbed into the body.

Data from the NHS OpenPrescribing service shows 4,730 prescriptions for orlistat were handed out by GPs in the former NHS Barnsley CCG area throughout 2022 at a total cost of £115,100 to the NHS.

It is the highest number of prescriptions for the weight loss drug handed out in the area since 2018.

Over the past five years, there were 21,770 prescriptions for orlistat in Barnsley - costing the health service around £506,010.

The figures were released as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recently approved the use of another weight loss drug, semaglutide, by NHS England.

The Obesity Health Alliance, which welcomed the approval of semaglutide, said drugs alone will not be the answer to the UK’s extremely high levels of excess weight.

A spokesperson said: “This will be tremendous news to those at highest risk who are unable to control their weight due to many complex factors.

“Obesity is a chronic, relapsing condition with many causes.

“Drugs alone will not be the answer to the UK’s extremely high levels of excess weight.

“We need to take action to ensure that as few people as possible reach the stage of needing pharmaceutical or surgical interventions.

“It is essential that we tackle the root cause of obesity, such as the flood of unhealthy food and drink that is constantly marketed and promoted to us, so we are not treating people and then sending them back into the conditions that made them sick.

“This government can turn the tide on obesity, but to do that they cannot rely on drug treatment alone, and must make it easier, cheaper and more appealing to buy healthier food and drinks, and to help people especially children, reach and maintain healthy weight for life.”

Barnsley became the first town in the north of England to implement restrictions on junk food advertising last year.

The council’s measures, developed in collaboration with food charity Sustain, have been introduced to protect the health and adults and children - and they’ll be in place across all of their advertising estate.

Despite this, almost half of Barnsley’s youngsters are classed as ‘unhealthily overweight’ when they leave primary school.

NHS Digital figures show 25.9 per cent of year six pupils in Barnsley schools were obese last year.

Nearly eight per cent of those were classed as ‘severely obese’, which means they had a body mass index (BMI) in the top 0.4 per cent for a child’s age and sex.

It means the area has seen the largest rise in the proportion of older primary school student who are obese compared to before the Covid pandemic across the entirety of the country.

A total of 19.3 per cent of pupils were classed as obese in 2019/20, the latest period available with comparable data.

A further 14 per cent of children were also overweight, meaning 39.9 per cent of the borough’s youngsters are classed as ‘unhealthily overweight’ when they finish primary school.