Obesity epidemic worse than feared. Why is the UK so fat?
Predictions that half the British population will be obese by 2050 'underestimate' the scale of crisis
THE scale of Britain's obesity epidemic is worse than feared, according to a report from the National Obesity Forum. A previous worst-case scenario, published in the 2007 Foresight Report, predicted that half of the population would be obese by 2050. This is now looking like an "underestimate", says the Forum, which suggests that half of the population could be obese ten years earlier than predicted, in 2040.
What are the implications of such a high obesity rate?
The original Foresight Report said a 50 per cent obesity rate could have "substantial" economic implications. The NHS costs attributable to obesity were projected to double to £10bn a year by 2050, while the wider costs to society and business were estimated to reach £49.9bn per year. With the increased risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, strokes and cancer, MPs today warned that tens of thousands more parents would have to bury their children as a result. "Today it's the exception to bury your child. By 2050 it will be far less so unless we change habits," Conservative MP Nick de Bois told the Evening Standard.
How does the UK compare to other countries?
According to figures published by the United Nations last year, the United Kingdom is the 23rd most obese country in the world. It tied with Russia with a 24.9 per cent prevalence of adult obesity. At the top of the list was Mexico at 32.8 per cent, followed by the United States at 31.8 per cent. Japan had the lowest rate at 4.5 per cent.
So why are Britons becoming so fat?
Modern lifestyles with easy access to high calorie foods and sedentary jobs and leisure activities make weight gain more likely, says the BBC. Many blame individuals for bad dietary habits, but Ben Brooks, writing in The Guardian, says this "fails to address the roots of overconsumption: cost of living, manipulative marketing, nutritional misinformation and – often overlooked – simple palatability". Dr Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist, tells the Daily Express that obesity "represents the greatest threat to health worldwide" and criticised junk food companies' sponsorship of sporting events and athlete endorsements of sugary drinks.
What can be done?
The National Obesity Forum calls on health officials to introduce hard-hitting awareness campaigns – similar to those for smoking – to try to stem the problem. It has urged family doctors to proactively discuss weight management with patients and routinely measure children's height and weight. One group of health experts has called on the food industry to dramatically reduce levels of sugar in everyday products and for the government to impose a "Sugar Tax". But in The Independent, Janet Street-Porter has another idea. "Surely, the best way to deal with our national sugar addiction is to learn a lesson from the last war and return to rationing," she says.