Half the population now overweight

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BRITAIN IS growing fatter at the same alarming rate as the United States, according to a nutritionist. The latest figures show that obesity has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Over half the population is overweight and nearly one person in five is now classed as obese.

"In the UK there is a tendency for us to be complacent and say we are not as fat as the Americans," said Dr Susan Jebb, of the MRC Human Nutrition Research centre, Cambridge. "While this is true in absolute terms, the rate of increase in the two countries is similar. We are simply 10 to 15 years behind them. It is not a safe condition. It increases the risk of a whole range of life-threatening conditions," she told a meeting on obesity of the Royal Society of Medicine

Obesity causes premature death and considerable ill health. It is estimated that the direct health costs in Britain are pounds 3.5bn a year.

Obesity in children is one of the greatest concerns for health experts. In America one child in five is obese and many are showing ill health and social problems that experts say are due to excess weight.

A study published in the journal Developmental Psychology shows that, despite the politically correct movement against "fattism", skinny girls are the most likely to go out with boys. A girl of average height and weight, who was 5ft 3in tall and weighed 9st (57kg), was half as likely to get dates as a girl of the same height and age who weighed a below- average 7st 12lb (50kg).

"One reason adolescent girls are concerned about their weight is that they believe that being slim increases their chances of dating. Our data indicates they are right," said Dr Carolyn Halpern, assistant professor of maternal and child health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the author of the study.

The researchers followed 200 girls, aged 13 and 14, from a county in central North Carolina, for two years. Every six months the girls filled out confidential questionnaires about dieting, weight concerns, dating and sexual activity. Investigators also measured the girls' fat by testing skin-fold thickness at four points on their bodies.

Further new research has shown that meal replacements are more effective for long-term weight loss than low-calorie diets. Dr Herwig Ditschuneit, from the University of Ulm, presented his findings at the meeting. The results showed that, over two years, obese patients who were put on meal replacements lost more than 10 per cent of their initial body weight compared with less than 4 per cent for a group who were put on low-calorie diets. "Patients on meal replacements seem to have found it easier to adhere to the energy-reduced diet," he said.