Global governments 'must get tough on obesity'

 
Body fat being measured using callipers. Obesity is a problem in low, middle and high income countries

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Tougher action - including taxing junk food - is needed by all governments if the obesity crisis is going to be tackled, experts say.

The international group of researchers, who have published a series of articles in The Lancet, said no country had yet got to grips with the problem.

They said changes in society meant it was getting harder for people to live healthy lives.

And they warned without state action, health systems could become swamped.

Obesity-related problems, such as diabetes, were now accounting for between 2% and 6% of health care costs in most countries.

Rising spending

But as one of the articles showed, this is likely to get worse if current trends continue.

Researchers made projections for the US and the UK - two of the developed countries with the worst rates of obesity.

They predicted obesity rates would rise from a quarter in the UK to about 40% by 2030.

Such a scenario would cost the NHS an extra £2bn a year - the equivalent of 2% of health spending.

The rise in costs would be even greater in the US, where obesity rates would rise from one in three to about one in two.

The researchers accepted that the whole of society - from the individual to industry - had a role to play in tackling the problem.

But they said governments needed to take a lead by using legislation and direct intervention to create a better environment.

They said many measures - including taxes on unhealthy food, restrictions on junk food advertising, traffic light labelling and school-based education programmes - would save money as well as benefit health.

OBESITY MEASURES

Category Saves money Minor cost Higher cost

SOURCE: The Lancet

FOOD

  • Tax junk food
  • Limit junk food ads
  • Traffic light labelling
  • Cost benefit category

LIFESTYLE

  • Discourage kids from TV
  • Exercise and healthy eating at school
  • Work with obese children
  • Help families with overweight children
  • School walking trains

TREATMENT

  • Surgery for obese teenagers and adults
  • Weight loss drugs

Others, such as providing obesity surgery and health programmes aimed at families with overweight children, would come with a minor cost although should still be looked at.

Oxford University expert Professor Klim McPherson, who was one of the lead researchers, said: "It is about changing the environment in which people live so they can make healthier choices."

Professor Klim McPherson from Oxford University: 'Obesity as serious as smoking'

But he said too many countries shied away from taking the right action and urged a forthcoming UN summit on health in September to "show leadership" by putting pressure on governments to act.

In particular, he criticised the government in England, which has been focusing on voluntary agreements with industry rather than legislation.

He said ministers were "enfeebled by their ideology" and too worried about accusations of the nanny state.

"They have this idea that government action in this sphere would not be a good idea," he added.

Professor Boyd Swinburn, who is based in Australia and works for the World Health Organization, agreed governments had been too slow to act on the "obesity crisis".

"There is more willingness to invest in drugs and surgery than dealing with the underlying causes."

He also compared the tactics of the food industry - in terms of getting people addicted to their products and in blocking attempts to discourage consumption - to those of tobacco firms in previous decades.

Start Quote

Of course we have to work with industry, but there is a feeling that the emphasis of this government has turned too far away from legislation”

End Quote Dr Frank Atherton Association of Directors of Public Health

Dr Frank Atherton, president of the Association of Directors of Public Health, also said he was in favour of the interventions being suggested: "Of course we have to work with industry, but there is a feeling that the emphasis of this government has turned too far away from legislation."

However, Terry Jones, of the Food and Drink Federation, said the industry had been taking positive steps.

"The Lancet fails to recognise the lengths to which the UK food and drink industry has gone to help improve the health of the nation, particularly in relation to rising obesity levels," said Mr Jones.

Public health minister Anne Milton said the government believed the best way to achieve results was through a "collective voluntary effort".

She said this was achieving results, citing the pledge by industry to put calorie information on menus.

Public health minister Anne Milton: "We're too fat and we need to do something about it"

"We have no current plans to impose a 'fat tax', but we are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available.

"We also want to see businesses use more consistent and informative front-of-pack nutrition labelling than has been achieved in the past," she added.

"We recognise the significant threat that obesity poses to society and have taken a proactive part in improving health."

 

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  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1462.

    Life is a lot easier if you have a car to pick up your fruit and veg from the supermarket. Vegetables and fruit go off very quickly and need to be replenished daily. People who do not have cars, have to spend money and time on taxi's and public transport which is expensive, time consuming and tiring.

    Time vs. Money.

    Who wants to spend their life constantly frequenting the supermarket?

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 1457.

    Tax on food is V.A.T and we don`t have it on food.No food is unhealthy,it becomes unhealthy if you eat the same thing every day.There are chemicals in some processed food that make you want more causing binge eating.
    I would`nt trust a social engineer who wants to make me eat what they want because they too are supporting another industry.No matter how healthy,you can still fall under a bus.

  • rate this
    +75

    Comment number 647.

    I have lost 11st through cutting carbs, cutting out sugar but here is the biggie...I ditched the car and cycle the 15 mile round trip to work. The impetus-realising I was going to die and not see my children grow up if. I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been. I weigh less than when I was 16. Its the hardest thing I have ever done. But it can be done. Without a gym or a diet club!

  • rate this
    +41

    Comment number 644.

    I don't get why people think it's cheaper to buy ready-made food or fast food than make fresh. Baked potatoes, seasonal fruit and veg, locally reared chicken etc. You can even save money by making your own sauces - with tomatoes, onion or whatever - with the added advantage that you know exactly what's in it. If you do a big cook up, you can freeze some for another time.

  • rate this
    +17

    Comment number 631.

    The more people are squeezed financially, the more they are forced to rely on cheap and unhealthy foods, of which there is a ridiculous abundance in this country. Socio-economic issues aside, if the food industry and major corporations (such as supermarkets) were more responsible in the way they create and market products, and if fruit and veg were cheaper, people would make better choices.

 

Comments 5 of 17

 

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