Obesity has grown by almost 400 percent in the last 25 years. Three-quarters of the adult population are now overweight or obese. England has witnessed the fastest growth in obesity in Europe and childhood obesity has tripled in twenty years.
The report paints a bleak picture of the likely threat that obesity poses: Should the gloomier scenarios relating to obesity turn out to be true, the sight of amputees will become much more familiar in the streets of Britain. There will be many more blind people. There will be huge demand for kidney dialysis. The positive trends of recent decades in combating heart disease, partly the consequence of the decline in smoking, will be reversed. Indeed, this will be the first generation where children die before their parents as a consequence of childhood obesity.
The report calculates the cost of overweight and obesity to the nation at up to £7.4bn per year, a figure which will rapidly rise.
Chairman David Hinchliffe said:
Our inquiry is a wake-up call for Government to show that the causes of ill health need to be tackled by many Departments not just Health.
"Wholesale cultural and societal changes will be needed if any headway is to be made. The urban infrastructure will need to be completely redesigned to encourage an active lifestyle."
The report notes that levels of cycling have fallen by over 80 percent in the last 50 years. Fewer than 1 percent of school journeys are now made by bicycle and half the nations children fail to achieve the Governments modest target of 2 hours activity per week.
The cross-party committee remarks that the key to improving activity levels across society is to boost activity in everyday life in areas such as transport.
The committee calls on the government to "take serious measures to boost cycling such as creating properly segregated cycle lanes."
The report has some jump-out passages on cycling:
40. We believe that providing safe routes to school for walking and cycling, adequate and safe play areas in and out of school is very important in the battle against obesity. (Paragraph 284)
46. It would not be appropriate for us to spell out the individual measures required to achieve the Government's ambitious cycling targets, although we were particularly impressed by the segregation of cyclists from road traffic we witnessed in Odense. If the Government were to achieve its target of trebling cycling in the period 2000-2010 (and there are very few signs that it will) that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report. So we would like the Department of Health to have a strategic input into transport policy and we believe it would be an important symbolic gesture of the move from a sickness to a health service if the Department of Health offered funding to support the Department for Transport's sustainable transport town pilots. (Paragraph 316)
Now let's watch the media as news report after news report will fail to highlight that cycling is said to be, and it's worth quoting again, the one key measure "that might achieve more in the fight against obesity than any individual measure we recommend within this report."
PDF of the full report: