Predictions that half of the British population will be obese by 2050 may actually be underestimating the scale of the problem, a new report has suggested.
In 2007, a government review forecasted that obesity would affect half of all UK adults and cost the economy as much as £50 billion a year by 2050.
Currently, 26% of UK adults are obese. However, recent estimates from Public Health England that say 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children could be obese within four decades.
The new report urges health officials to introduce awareness campaigns comparable to those highlighting the dangers of smoking, and called on GPs to discuss weight management with patients and to keep a check on children’s weight.
The significance of what we drink, as well as what we eat, also needs to be more clearly explained, it says.
“There needs to be concerted action”, said Prof David Haslam, chairman of the National Obesity Forum – the authors of the report.
“There is a lot more we can be doing by way of earlier intervention and to encourage members of the public to take sensible steps to help themselves – but this goes hand in hand with government leadership and ensuring responsible food and drink manufacturing and retailing.”
“We need more proactive engagement by health care professionals on weight management, more support and better signposting to services for people who are already obese, and more importance placed on what we drink and how it affects our health.”
Earlier this month, a separate report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) found that worldwide, one in three people are now overweight, with the number of obese individuals rising to nearly a billion in developing countries that are experiencing increasing incomes.
A number of investment professionals have sought to underline the importance of tackling obesity, arguing that healthier food means healthier profits.
Alliance Trust sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) fund manager Neil Brown said, “Returning our diets to quality food eaten in sensible portions would provide huge health gains to individuals, reduce the burdens on our healthcare budgets and of course, the real driver for any investor, deliver significant profits for the companies that get us there.”
Meanwhile, Sarbjit Nahal, equity strategist at Merrill Lynch, argued that food giants that have promoted unhealthy diets in developing countries will find themselves facing similar scrutiny to the tobacco industry.
“There is a growing awareness that obesity and its ripple effect on diseases like diabetes will cost society – and in particular employers and insurers – more than smoking ever did”, he said.