Britain’s fatal love affair with junk food can only be tackled by a new national government task force while children should be protected from the harmful influence of multinational fast food chains by a total ban on all junk food TV advertising until after the 9pm watershed.
The new report Careless Eating Costs Lives by 2020health – an independent, social enterprise think-tank – which is published today insists the UK’s obesity crisis is spiralling out of control and that only co-ordinated action at the highest level can help save thousands of people each year from an early death.
Among the report’s other recommendations was that cookery and food education should become a mandatory subject in schools for all pupils over the age of 14.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Britain is the “fat man of Europe” with obesity costing the NHS billions of pounds a year. In Scotland, the number of people classed as overweight or obese has risen from 52 per cent in 1995 to 62 per cent in 2012. One in six Scots children is currently at risk of obesity.
A key strategy is the licensing of junk food outlets by local authorities so they can control their numbers and locations, for example near schools.
Julia Manning, chief executive of 2020health, said: “Piecemeal solutions have been tried in the past and shown to be inadequate.
“According to the WHO we are the fat man of Europe and this has severe consequences for us as a nation. Unless we have a cross-cutting strategy that everyone from the government down takes seriously, obesity will continue to rise and be devastating for both individuals and the nation.
“Our research has shown that hand in hand with obesity is widespread confusion over what constitutes healthy eating and a rise in malnutrition. We have a culture of excess but there is no single reason for our obesity problem, and its fallacious to suggest otherwise. This report is not the final word. We need to undertake more research into the efficacy of taxes, the role of the employer, food production, the environment and individual circumstances in combating obesity.”
In recent years the Scottish Government has unveiled a ‘Preventing Obesity’ route map in which it has worked with the food industry on issues such as portion size, labelling and marketing. But figures show obesity remains a major problem in Scotland.
The proportion of people aged 16 to 64 who were overweight or obese increased from 52.4 per cent in 2009 to 61.9 per cent last year. The same figures suggested 16.8 per cent of children were at risk of obesity.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government recognises this is not a problem the NHS can solve on its own, and any solution needs the engagement and participation of the whole of Scottish society. Our Preventing Obesity route map sets out national and local governments’ respective long-term commitment to tackling obesity, to help achieve a healthier Scotland and contribute towards sustainable economic growth.
“We have also introduced a range of measures to improve diet, with more than £2.5 million being spent this financial year on projects to encourage healthy eating, from community initiatives in deprived areas, to the healthy living award in catering settings. We are also working closely with the food industry – including manufacturers, retailers and caterers – to reduce the salt, fat and added sugar content of products, and work is ongoing with the education sector to teach people about the importance of healthy eating.”