A rise in obesity, a decline in physical activity and an increase in smoking among children were storing up trouble, Sir Kenneth Calman said. With continuing problems of poverty and inequality, they represented a serious threat to the nation's health.
Delivering his annual report, Sir Kenneth, who retires next week, said obesity affected 16 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women. There was a "significant lack of fitness", he said, and the proportion of children who smoked had risen from 10 per cent in 1990 to 13 per cent in 1996.
"If you put these factors together you could make a very significant change to the health of the population," he said.
Young men had lost out in the big health gains of the past decade as increasing numbers had fallen victim to violence, drugs, suicide and Aids. Death rates among men aged 15 to 44 rose while all other age groups saw sharp falls. Sir Kenneth said the increase had been "one of the real disappointments" of his seven years in the post.
"If you read Trainspotting [the Irvine Welsh novel about the drug sub- culture that became a hit film] you will find out why it has happened," he said.
Overall life expectancy has increased among men from 73.4 years in 1991, when Sir Kenneth took up the post, to 74.6 years in 1996. For women it is up from 78.9 years to 79.7. In the under-65s, deaths from coronary heart disease had fallen 20 per cent by last year and deaths from lung and breast cancer among women had both fallen 15 per cent. Infant mortality fell to its lowest recorded level, 5.9 deaths per 1,000 live births.
Overall, deaths in people under 65 fell by 14 per cent in men and by 11 per cent in women over the period.
His report focuses on the influence of the environment on health. Sir Kenneth said global warming could increase the incidence of disease as well as triggering natural disasters, and departments across government were "thinking hard about the implications".
n A pounds 3m scheme was launched today to make children eat their greens.
The money will be available to a series of "junior spin doctors" who will come up with ways of getting the message across to other youngsters. The Right Fit fund has been set up by the pharmaceutical giant Glaxo Wellcome and Barnardo's, the children's charity.
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