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Obesity is as seriousa threat as climate change, says minister

Alan Johnson, the Secretary of State for Health, warned yesterday that Britain's obesity crisis is as serious as climate change and will demand a review into whether the current ban on junk food advertising to children is tough enough.

The call for fresh restrictions on TV ads for junk food comes as new government research reveals this week that half of all adults could be clinically obese by 2050.

Mr Johnson is believed to want a review into whether a ban on junk food advertising should be extended to slots between popular adult programmes such as The X Factor, which are also watched by millions of under-16s. The current ban covers only children's programming and programmes watched by a greater than average number of children.

The use of cartoon characters to promote foods high in sugar, salt and fat is also expected to be scrutinised. And it is believed that the growing trend of food manufacturers sponsoring programmes will also be examined.

A government source said: "The Health Secretary's personal view is that it is all well and good having a ban if the children are over 40 per cent of the audience, but there is an issue around programmes like The X Factor where the proportion of children is small but the number is quite large. What Alan wants is to talk to parents about the best way to tighten up advertising."

Mr Johnson is also expected to order Britain's food standards watchdog to conduct an urgent review into whether trans-fats should be banned amid evidence that they raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

The proposals come as new research this week from experts led by Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser, warns that the health service and public transport will find it hard to cope with the sharp rise in obese children and adults.

His report is expected to warn that unless urgent preventative steps are taken, half of all UK adults will be obese by 2050. The increase would leave hospitals and doctors' surgeries hard-pressed to cope with an expected rise in heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and could stretch health budgets close to breaking point.

The report is expected to recommend a focus on prevention and planning, including more open spaces, cycle lanes and walking routes in cities to encourage people to exercise.

Mr Johnson warned: "We cannot afford not to act. For the first time we are clear about the magnitude of the problem. We are facing a potential crisis on the scale of climate change and it is in everybody's interest to turn things round. We will succeed only if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level in every part of society."

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