Leading article: A problem consuming Britain


National self-image can be a deceptive thing. Economists tell us that Britain is in a healthy state compared with the rest of Europe. And we are used to hearing about the vibrancy of our cultural life. Yet when it comes to our physical health, the official data released yesterday shows that Britain is actually in a rather poor condition. As the head of the Food Standards Agency points out, we are now the sick man of Europe.

The latest Health Profile of England also reveals a stark geographical divide. People in large parts of the north of England have a lower life expectancy than those in the south. And although Scotland is not included in the survey, it is no secret that health levels get worse the further north one travels.

This discrepancy cannot be attributed solely to income. Places with the worst health are by no means always the poorest - and Britons are, per head, just as wealthy as our healthier continental peers. The real difference here is lifestyle. Habits such as smoking and drinking play their part in making some parts of the nation more prone to illness than others. So does the relative lack of exercise we take. But much of the problem lies in diet. Large parts of Britain, for a variety of reasons, eat poor quality and unhealthy foods - something that leads to obesity, illness and, ultimately, an earlier death.

The Prime Minister was right yesterday to stress the importance of establishing the principle of "preventative" health care here if we are to see any improvement. We cannot continue to regard the NHS as a "national illness service". The Department of Health predicts that 13 million people in England will be obese by 2010. With obesity-related illnesses already costing the nation some £3.5bn a year, this could eventually bankrupt the NHS. The success of the Cuban health service shows that when doctors focus not just on a patient's ailments, but on their general lifestyle, the results can be astonishing.

But the real test for the Government lies in whether it can persuade Britons to eat more healthily. There has been some success. The quality of school meals has shown an improvement after the introduction of new guidelines. But the objectives laid out in the Government's health White Paper of two years ago look distant. Many deprived areas are still fresh-food deserts. And the Government's proposed "traffic-light" system for food labelling has been rejected by the food industry.

The Government cannot force people to eat more healthily, but it can do a lot more to encourage it. And a good deal more than our national self-image is riding on the success of such efforts.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas