Britain's obesity crisis predicted to worsen

In collaboration with the Press Association

The UK is on the brink of an obesity epidemic, with 60 per cent of adult men and 50 per cent of adult women set to be clinically obese by 2050 unless dramatic action is taken, a government-commissioned report has warned.

Obesity poses a threat on a similar scale to climate change, the report suggests, as it is a factor behind many chronic diseases, including cancer.

According to Cancer Research UK, being obese increases the risk of cancer of the womb, kidney, colon, gallbladder and oesophagus (foodpipe). It is also linked to breast cancer in women who have gone through the menopause.

The 'Tackling Obesities: Future Choices' report, published by the government think-tank Foresight, calls for immediate action and argues that individuals cannot be held solely responsible for their own obesity.

David King, the government's chief scientific advisor, said: "Foresight has for the first time drawn together complex evidence to show we must fight the notion the current obesity epidemic arises from individual overindulgence or laziness alone.

"Personal responsibility is important, but our study shows the problem is much more complicated," he continued.

"It is a wake-up call for the nation, showing that only change across many elements of our society will help us tackle obesity."

The researchers have predicted a large rise in chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, meaning that the problem could be draining some £45.5 billion a year from the UK economy by 2050 due to reduced productivity, loss of earnings, increased spending on benefits and the additional strain placed on the NHS.

The public health minister, Dawn Primarolo, said: "We have made progress with improved physical activity levels at school, healthier school food for children, clearer food labelling and tougher restrictions on advertising foods high in fat and sugar to children - but we know that we need to go further and faster."

Cancer Research UK has worked hard to increase awareness of the link between obesity and cancer and welcomed the report, describing it as "a wake-up call for the government".

Sara Hiom, director of health information, said: "The evidence linking obesity and being overweight to an increased risk of cancer is compelling. Research shows that around 12,000 people every year might avoid getting cancer if they maintained a healthy body weight.

"Obesity is a risk factor for cancers of the womb, kidney, bowel, gallbladder and foodpipe, as well as breast cancer in post-menopausal women. More effort is needed to ensure that an effective and fully integrated obesity prevention strategy is in place to help tackle the problem."