Global governments 'must get tough on obesity'

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

Related Stories

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.


Category Saves money Minor cost Higher cost

SOURCE: The Lancet


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


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


  • 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."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    Some top tips for solving the obesity endemic:

    1/ Quadruple tax on food."

    Four times zero is still zero. Most food is zero rated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    When looking at the cost of food you also need to factor in the cost of cooking it – especially with the cost of fuel – so sometimes a ready meal you can m/wave in 3mins will cost less overall than cooking from scratch eg boiling rice. cooking other ingredients plus washing lots of pans Plus I would rather spend 30 minutes in the gym than cooking a meal

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 643.

    Instead of taxing junk food... how about the government bring down the cost of healthy, more nutritious food? Instead of putting money in the governments fat pockets!

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    Adiition to Response to 539 JohnH

    Are you saying these people should lose benefits when life is much more expensive for them than it is for you?

  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    The issue is the BBC cites in such a sloppy format that it does not encourage readers to go to the source. "

    But those most in need of this advise won't be going to the source anyway. Those who do, unless they have some scientific background beyond A level, are unlikely to understand it. This may be simplistic reporting but for this audience probably needs to be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    Whilst ignorance might contribute to the problem of obesity it also seems rife in many of those who comment on it.

    The idea of financial punishments for obese people is just fascist craziness. These intolerant ideas will not solve the problem and are not helpful.

    Educating families and individuals in taking personal responsibility for their health and the health of their dependents is the key.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    @Sybarite sure our forefathers ate plenty of fat, but the majority did hard work, didn't drive everywhere and were generally fit!!! When I was able to cycle (2 and half years waiting on NHS op list for torn tendon) I ate fat on meat etc but kept a healthy BMI, I stopped as my ability to exercise decreased, I have put on weight due to lack of exercise, but if I ate fat it would have been more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 638.

    539 JohnH

    You seem to assume that all larger people are the way they are they are simply because of what they eat and the amount of benefit they receive.
    There are a percentage of people whe become obese perhaps because they are for example wheelchair bound because of the nature of their disability .

  • rate this

    Comment number 637.

    Never mind diets. Just take away TVs and computers and give away footballs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 636.

    Why should the Government have to be responsible for persuading lazy people to eat and keep fit? It's a personal choice that the individual has to make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 635.

    Clearly one of the most ill thought out solutions to a problem yet. The classic approach of making the government responsible and thus an increase in taxes, is absolutely laughable!
    "International Group of Researchers" really? this is the best solution they could come up with? If that is the case then there is no hope for us. The best idea is stop wasting money on these stupid studies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 634.

    If all these people are to be obese, just think how quickly they'll die saving all that money on pensions we can't afford.

    Doing my own bit - 22 stone - life expectancy less than skinny people - working - paying tax. Under exercising not over eating.

    It's not the food, it's our own level of exercise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 633.

    Cook meals made from fresh meat, fruit and veg (bought cheaply at the market); exercise daily (walk briskly for 30 mins instead of taking the car); and if you are short of time, watch an hour's less TV per day. Not only will one loose weight but feeling fitter will reduce the lethargy that has swept into so many people. The nation's is solved at no cost to the taxpayer, on fell swoop!

  • rate this

    Comment number 632.

    " CharlesT
    Worrying I am technically 'overweight'...6ft3 almost 15 stone but muscle mass rather than fat! I think the BMI is a little too general and cynical."

    Unfortunately special cases like yours and (eg) Johnny Wilkinson provide the perfect excuse for the much greater number of people for whom BMI is a useful measure.

  • rate this

    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.

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    No wonder fat people just get fatter. Having to deal with the abuse I have seen in these comments isn't going to encourage people to get out and exercise. No it will just drive them indoors to comfort eat, it's hard to think about health and your future when the world rebukes you. Convicted murders don't get treated like this, yes fat people are making some bad choices, but its hardly genocide.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    I think that the problem arises mainly from poor education, poor self-awareness and narcissism, and to a lesser extent from illnesses, economics and busy lives, and I'm not sure how more legislation would help. I remember a quote from a documentary a while back 'doctor, I've just eaten forty-five oranges, and I'm still putting on weight'...

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    A few suggestions: ban vending machines, turn off _all_ escalators/travellators and adjust planning laws such that they can no longer be built, introduce healthy-food-adjusted food vouchers as part of JSA. Introduce minimum parking distances for out-of-town retail. (Or temper these down to less extreme variants of similar ideas). Basic idea - increase NEPA, decrease crap availability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    100% tax on multi-buy offers of sweets & snack food, including meal deals. Cheap/Free local transport; encourage people to walk to the stop, companies profit based No. of people carried. Free healthy lunches for children who walk/cycle to school. No kids TV before 17.00, get out and play! Higher prices on clothes with big waist. Listen to the protests, but it would surely shed a few calories!


Page 52 of 84


More Health stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.