BBC's Fat Nation strives to save Britain from obesity

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Indy Lifestyle Online

From Diana "Green Goddess" Moran on BBC Breakfast to Derrick "Mr Motivator" Evans on GMTV, television has repeatedly and vainly attempted to increase the fitness levels and decrease the waistlines of the viewing public.

For the most part, the watching millions have been motivated to do nothing more than gawp at the set and snack on high-cholesterol foods.

But the BBC announced yesterday that, after decades of turning people into couch potatoes, it is to embark on an ambitious two-year campaign that is aimed at nothing less than reducing the collective weight of the British public.

BBC executives said the colossal project - on television, radio and online - was inspired by alarm over the rising rates of obesity that have taken hold in the United States.

The campaign, called Fat Nation - The Big Challenge, will start on 9 September with a nine-programme series that will try to lower the average weight (currently 10st 10lbs) of 200 adults and children living in one street in the Handsworth Wood area of Birmingham. The volunteers will be used as inspiration to the country in an attempt to change diets, fitness regimes and lifestyles.

At one point in the series a young, self-confessed fast-food fan from the Birmingham street will be taken to America and given a shocking insight into the results of over-indulgence in such a diet. Lisa Ausden, head of the consumer unit at the BBC, said: "We are going to America to explore what made America fat and how we are following in their footsteps." Virginia Hill, the series producer, said Britain could face similar levels of obesity that within "10 to 15 years".

The campaign has the backing of the Premier League, which is also keen to do its bit for Britain's health, perhaps conscious of the predilection of many football fans for half-time meat and potato pies. Ms Hill said: "We are hoping they are going to give us some coaches and players and try to train some of the people in the street for a football match."

The project goes far beyond a reality television project in that viewers will be encouraged to follow the advice given in the programme and change their lifestyles by using their own "virtual locker", accessible through the programme's website. They will be able to monitor their body mass index (the amount of fat you are carrying in relation to muscle), their dietary intake and amount of exercise activity.

The BBC is also making available 350,000 support packs (costing £3.99 each) that will include advice on measuring food portions and a pedometer, which measures distances walked. The guidance urges participants to clock up 10,000 steps per day (although most people manage only 3,000).

Government statistics suggest that 63 per cent of the British population is overweight, with 22 per cent having an obesity problem. Residents of the street in Birmingham selected for the project are in comparatively good shape, with 51 per cent overweight. The street was chosen for its enthusiasm for the project and its multicultural mix.

During the next two years the Fat Nation challenge is to be taken on by the BBC's regional radio and television stations to encourage people from across Britain to form fitness and diet clubs.