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."

News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm that there was a 'minor disturbance'

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Primary Teacher Cornwall

    £21500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: ***KS1 & KS2 Teachers ...

    Year 5 Teacher

    £80 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Year 5 Teacher KS2 teaching job...

    Software Developer

    £35000 - £45000 Per Annum Pensions Scheme After 6 Months: Clearwater People So...

    Systems Analyst / Business Analyst - Central London

    £35000 - £37000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Analyst / Busines...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

    The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album