Britons `obsessed by cult of fitness'

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BRITAIN IS becoming a nation "tormented by the state of its health and fitness", spending millions on grooming and exercise.

A survey of British lifestyles showed the fitness industry is now worth pounds 391m a year, a growth of almost 40 per cent in five years. And alongside our move towards jogging and the gym, the culture of the body beautiful has boosted sales of men's toiletries in the last decade.

The 17th annual report on lifestyles by Mintel market research also found Britons to be fun-loving with a sensible streak.

The cinema-going boom continues - attendances over the decade are up by 84 per cent - although the numbers visiting theatres and museums are down slightly.

But after a surge in holidays prompted by the building society windfalls of 1997, stated spending priorities in 1998 showed a note of caution.

Although for the average UK citizen real disposable income rose by 2 per cent last year, most respondents said saving for the future was their main concern.

The research concluded that the new Labour government, pounds 35bn of building society windfalls and falling unemployment caused the surge of consumer confidence in 1997.

And as the rest of Europe integrates, the British seem destined to stay outside, at least psychologically. Mintel found there had been littleincrease over the last 10 years in the number of Britons "feeling European".