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Global governments must ‘get tough on obesity’
Tougher action, including taxing junk food, is needed by all governments if the obesity crisis is going to be tackled, according to an international group of researchers.
The researchers (Dr Claire Wang, Prof Klim McPherson PhD, Tim Marsh, Steven L Gortmaker PhD and Martin Brown PhD), 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.
However, 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 £2 billion bn 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.
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."
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.
McPherson said ministers were "enfeebled by their ideology" and too worried about accusations of the nanny state.
He added "they have this idea that government action in this sphere would not be a good idea."
Professor Boyd Swinburn of Deakin University's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, who also works for the World Health Organisation, 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."
Swinburn 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.
Dr Frank Atherton, President of the UK's Association of Directors of Public Health, also said he was in favour of the interventions being suggested, stating "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 UK Food and Drink Federation, said the industry had been taking positive steps.
Jones explained "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."
Source: Nick Triggle, BBC News
For more information go to www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60814-3/abstract
23rd April 2011 - LEISURE INC. TACKLES CHILD OBESITY IN BAHRAIN
28th October 2010 - OVERWEIGHT AUSSIES DON’T HAVE TIME TO BE ACTIVE
18th September 2009 - BABY BOOMERS SHOULD LIVE LIKE ATHLETES
18th May 2009 - ENVIRONMENT TO BLAME FOR OBESITY
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