Government announces new anti-obesity strategy

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new £372 million strategy to tackle the growing levels of obesity in England has been launched by the government.

Nearly a quarter of adult men and women in England are now obese, as well as 18 per cent of two to 15-year-olds, and estimates predict that 60 per cent of the UK population will be obese by 2050.

Obesity contributes to higher levels of many diseases, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.

The new strategy is comprised of five key elements - the healthy growth and development of children; promoting healthier food choices; building physical activity into everyday lives; creating incentives for better health; and providing personalised advice and support.

Within these core elements, a &pound75 million marketing campaign will encourage parents to improve their children's diet and activity levels, while a &pound30 million investment will go towards creating 'healthy towns' which promote physical activity.

Individuals, employers and the NHS will be offered incentives to take a long-term view to improving health, while increased funding will be ploughed into commissioning more weight management services to help individuals achieve sustained weight loss.

Health secretary Alan Johnson said that tackling obesity is "the most significant public and personal health challenge facing our society".

"The core of the problem is simple - we eat too much and we do too little exercise," he claimed.

"The solution is more complex. From the nature of the food that we eat, to the built environment, through to the way our children lead their lives - it is harder to avoid obesity in the modern environment."

Mr Johnson said that the government has a duty to support people in leading healthier lifestyles. However, he noted: "This will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed in every part of society."

The chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, said that the strategy has come at a "vitally important time" as maintaining a healthy weight has "never been more challenging" than it is today.

"A unified solution must be found and this is an important first stage in engaging the whole of society in this issue. As mentioned in my annual report of 2002, physical activity, healthy eating, balanced marketing and promotion of food to children and clear and consistent food labelling are all key components in beating the obesity time bomb," he claimed.

The strategy has been welcomed by Cancer Research UK, which agrees that this urgent issue needs cross-government coordination and society-wide action.

Sara Hiom, the charity's director of health information, said: "The evidence linking obesity and being overweight to an increased risk of cancer is compelling. Obesity and overweight are responsible for around 12,000 cancer cases in the UK every year. This figure will rise as more people become overweight and obese and time is of the essence if we are to reverse trends.

"We commend the government for recognising the scale of the obesity epidemic and the amount of resources and effort needed to help tackle the problem. Cancer Research UK looks forward to working with and supporting the strategy but it's crucial that government sets itself a challenging timeline for achieving change."

However, Ms Hiom noted: "It's disappointing that the government has not committed to a 9pm advertising watershed for food high in salt, sugar and fat at this stage. Research shows that advertising does affect children's food preferences so the lack of advertising restriction is a missed opportunity."