UK fat alert: 26 million will be obese by 2030

Government urged to act to prevent looming national health emergency

The obesity crisis is being driven by a food industry bent on maximising profits – but governments are failing to intervene to protect the health of their populations, leading scientists say today. In the UK, the fattest nation in Europe, the number of obese adults is now forecast to rise 73 per cent over the next two decades, from 15 million to 26 million, resulting in more than a million extra cases of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Despite the increased burden on families, the economy and the NHS, ministers have failed to implement preventive policies because of fears about being branded the "nanny state".

Click HERE to view graphic (124k jpg)

A series of research papers published in The Lancet ahead of next month's United Nations meeting on non-communicable diseases, which is expected to single out obesity as the world's greatest challenge, says the drivers of the pandemic have been known for 40 years but governments have turned a blind eye and insisted it is a matter of individual responsibility.

No country in the world was successfully tackling the threat as leaders feared the wrath of electors if they slapped extra taxes on unhealthy foods or restricted car use.

But the consequences of doing nothing would be worse, researchers said. Professor Steven Gortmaker, of the Harvard School of Public Health, said assessments of 20 proven interventions for curbing obesity showed that eight would save costs as well as improve health, ranging from a tax on unhealthy food and drink to restrictions on marketing to children and schools programmes to boost healthy eating.

Traffic-light labelling to highlight unhealthy foods was among the most effective and cheapest ways of reducing consumption, but more attention was given to drugs and surgery.

"A one-cent-an-ounce tax on sweetened beverages would bring in $1.5bn (£920,000) a year in California, reduce obesity rates, reduce disease and lower healthcare costs," Professor Gortaker said. "So why don't people do it? It may be because there is a $50bn industry to counter that tax."

He criticised the UK Government's approach based on collaboration with the food industry to agree voluntary measures. There was no evidence that relying on the industry to exercise "corporate responsibility" would work. "We have not seen much effect of those initiatives," he said.

Targeting children was the most cost-effective option because "kids are born small" and need less intervention than adults who may have gained 40 or 50kg over a lifetime. "Unfettered marketing to children who can't distinguish fact or fantasy should be regulated," he said.

Professor Klim Mcpherson, epidemiologist at the University of Oxford who co-ordinated The Lancet's series and co-authored the Government-commissioned Foresight Report on obesity in 2007, said ministers understood the threat but feared nanny-state accusations. "They don't want to be labelled with that particular insult," he said. Governments raised taxes when they needed to, even at the risk of unpopularity, but in this case raising taxes could save money for communities.

"People would not throw governments out if they understood what the issues were. Any politician who called for a tax on sweetened drinks for children would not put their re-election chances at risk," Professor McPherson said. Professor Boyd Swinburn, of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention in Melbourne, Australia, said: "We are facing an obesity and chronic-disease crisis. All countries are affected except the very poorest. The dominant cause has been the increase in food consumption driven by changes in food supply.

Policy interventions are the most effective but governments have been very slow to act." Terry Jones of the UK Food and Drink Federation said: "The Lancet fails to recognise the lengths to which the UK food and drink industry has gone to help improve the health of the nation.

"The UK has been ahead of the game for a long time in reducing salt, energy and fat in their products with a 9 per cent reduction in the amount of salt and fat consumed by households since 2006." The Health minister Anne Milton said: "Tackling obesity is a priority. We have no current plans to impose a 'fat tax', but we are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    The Richmond Fellowship: Executive Director

    £66,192 per annum including car allowance of £5,700): The Richmond Fellowship:...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

    £16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Office Junior

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Site Agent

    £22000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This traditional family company...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent