Fitness campaign is a waste of money, says Widdecombe

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Money spent on a new government campaign to encourage people to lose weight would be better invested in life-saving drugs, a former Conservative minister has said.

Ann Widdecombe, a recent participant in ITV's Celebrity Fit Club show, claimed that while people will often object if you smoke near them, nobody says "Don't get fat near me". She said that, apart from offering basic advice, the Government should leave people to sort out their own weight problems.

Ms Widdecombe said: "It's time this Government woke up to what it can and can't do, set its priorities properly and started considering the number of people whose needs are being neglected instead of trying to dictate to the nation how it should live their own lives," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It's time we were all grown up and took responsibility for ourselves. I think there are an awful lot of people who cannot get the drugs that they need on the NHS who are going to say 'Why on earth should any NHS priority be poured into trying to persuade people to do something which is relatively easy, which is to look after themselves'."

The Government has appointed the Health Minister Caroline Flint the new "minister for fitness" with a brief to try to persuade people to exercise more often.The Department of Health has calculated that half the adult male population, 22 per cent of girls and 19 per cent of boys aged between two and 15 will be clinically obese by 2010.

That means more than 14 million children and adults are forecast to be obese, largely because of poor eating habits and sedentry lifestyles. That is likely to lead to thousands more cases of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

Obesity is already thought to cause 9,000 premature deaths a year in the UK. It costs the NHS about £1bn, with a wider economic cost of up to £7bn. The Department of Health report says that obesity among men is up from 13 per cent in 1993 to 24 per cent in 2004 and will hit 33 per cent in 2010.

"The biggest gains to health and to the economy will be made by encouraging more physical activity among people who don't normally do any," said Ms Flint. She avoided the question of whether ministers such as John Prescott needed to lose weight. "I'm certainly not taking on the job of being the chief aerobics instructor for either the Cabinet or for the nation. "

Andrew Lansley, the shadow health minister, said: "The Government's track record on tackling obesity is just woeful. After nine years, the sum total of the Government's effort is to suggest joined-up initiatives across departments. The focus should be on shared responsibility... working with individuals."