'Devastating threat' of obesity must be tackled, says report

With three-quarters of the UK's adult population now overweight or obese, a comprehensive raft of measures are needed to combat the "devastating threat" to the nation’s health posed by obesity, the Commons health committee has said.

The Health Committee's report paints a bleak picture of the likely threat that obesity poses, claiming in the worst-case scenario poor circulation brought on by obesity could lead to the sight of amputees becoming "much more familiar in the streets of Britain".

If the trend continued, the health committee claimed that there will be: many more blind people; a huge demand for kidney dialysis; and the positive trends of recent decades in combating heart disease, partly the consequence of the decline in smoking, will be reversed.

"Indeed, this will be the first generation where children die before their parents as a consequence of childhood obesity,” the report said.

Obesity is linked with a wide range of diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, renal failure, osteoarthritis and psychological damage.

The condition has grown in the UK by almost 400% in the last 25 years and around 22% of the adult population are now obese, the report found. England has witnessed the fastest growth in obesity in Europe and childhood obesity has tripled in 20 years.

On present trends half of all children in England in 2020 could be obese – and already a third of children in America (which is ahead of us only by a few years in obesity trends) are likely to become diabetic.

The report has calculated the cost of overweight and obesity to the nation at up to £7.4 billion per year, a figure which will rapidly rise.

Only recently has the strong association between obesity and various cancers emerged and obesity is now regarded as the greatest avoidable cause of cancer after tobacco.

Chairman David Hinchliffe said the report was a "wake-up call for government".

"It is simply unacceptable that sports and education ministers should have endorsed initiatives to supply schools with sporting equipment or books but which required children to buy Cadbury’s chocolate or Walker’s crisps. We found a total lack of joined-up solutions at present," he said.

Mr Hinchcliffe called for a wholesale cultural and societal changes to encourage an active lifestyle. The onus was also on food companies and supermarkets to take real responsibility for their products and marketing, not simply pay lip service to it while undermining genuine efforts to reform the nation’s diet, he added.

In response to the report, Health Secretary John Reid said that the concerns raised by the report will be addressed in a White Paper on Public Health later this year.

The head of science at the British Medical Association (BMA) Dr Vivienne Nathanson said: "The creation of a Cabinet public health committee, legislation for clearer food labelling, and measures to prevent unhealthy food being targeted at children would all be extremely positive steps. The committee is also to be applauded for recognising the need to boost levels of activity in everyday life - it is essential for example that there are areas where children can exercise safely."

She added: "Obesity is not just the responsibility of individuals, or just the Department of Health, but of society as a whole, and a joined-up approach is urgently needed."


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