Eat less, exercise more

It's not the most complex of ideas to get across but with fad diets and fat kids ever on the rise, the message isn't getting through. With a tidal wave of blubber set to paralyse health services in the next few years, the Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have grouped together to warn Brits their eating and exercise habits must change. One of the most obvious lifestyle changes - physical activity - should be promoted by the government, believe the anti-obesity docs. Cycling to school is specifically mentioned in the report as a Good Thing...
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A new report released today says that if we are to reduce the threat to the health of millions of Britons from the consequences of obesity, we must take immediate and concerted action with a comprehensive national strategy organised across many fronts.

'Reducing And Preventing Obesity – Everything Must Change' is subheaded

‘Storing Up Problems: The medical case for a slimmer nation' and is jointly produced jointly by the Royal College of Physicians, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The report states that actions should be long-term and sustainable, recognising that behaviour change is complex, difficult and takes time. The emphasis is on environment, empowerment and encouragement – dropping the blame culture, engaging the whole community and assisting all groups to take action according to their own opportunities and responsibilities, including health professionals themselves.

Over half the UK population is either overweight or obese, in 2002 70% of men, and 63% of women. One in five adults is obese. Obesity in 2-4 year old children almost doubled from 5%-9% from 1989-1998, and in 6-15-year-olds trebled from 5%-16% between 1990-2001. Overweight young people have a 50% chance of being overweight adults, and children of overweight parents have twice the risk of being overweight compared to those with healthy weight parents. If current trends continue, conservative estimates are that at least one-third of adults, one fifth of boys and one-third of girls will be obese by 2020.

Being overweight restricts body activity, damages health and shortens life; and it harms self-esteem and social life. Heart disease, stroke, joint problems and the commonest form of diabetes (Type 2) are direct effects of obesity and overweight.

Overweight and obesity also result in a huge financial burden for government, the NHS and society as a whole – the National Audit Office estimates costs to the NHS of at least £0.5 billion a year, and £2 billion to the wider economy.

The reports main recommendations are:

A cross-governmental task force should be established at Cabinet level to develop national strategies for tackling the threat from overweight and obesity, and to oversee the implementation of these strategies.

Government should mount a sustained public education campaign to improve people's understanding of the benefits of healthy eating and active living, and to motivate people to eat a healthier diet and adopt a more active lifestyle. [Come on, let's get people on their bicycles!]

New standards in nutritional content, food labelling, and food marketing and promotion should be agreed jointly by the food industry and the Food Standards Agency. Incentives to encourage the production, promotion and sale of healthier foods should be introduced.

Population-wide initiatives should be implemented at local level to tackle obesity. Public services should take the lead by promoting healthy eating and increased physical activity in public places, such as schools and hospitals. {Yep, more cycling to work}.

Professor Peter Kopelman, chair of the working party, said:

“The publication of this report is very timely, given the announcement last week by the Secretary of State for Health Mr John Reid on consultation for a White Paper on public health. This report highlights the terrifying health consequences of the obesity epidemic that will particularly impact on our children unless effective and coherent preventive measures are taken. The report identifies responsibilities of every segment of society from central Government to individual families, and makes practical and realistic recommendations that need to be taken forward immediately to achieve a slimmer and healthier nation.”

Professor Alan Craft, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said:

“Obesity is a major issue for children as well as adults. We must find ways of tackling it in childhood if we are to prevent the major complications in adult life. Prevention is everyone's business.”

Professor Sian Griffiths, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said:

"We are getting fatter because we are not taking enough physical activity and we are eating the wrong foods. For example, too many children are taken to school by car and too few ride their bicycles. The UK has the lowest physical activity for school children in Europe , and the problem is worst in the most vulnerable groups - who are also the most socially deprived. The solution requires partnerships at all levels - across government, who can regulate and create health policies, within communities where engagement in healthier environments (such as schools, workplaces) can encourage individuals in making healthier choices. Obesity is a serious threat to our well-being and we need to get the health balance right, not only through taking individual responsibility but through measures which make it easier to make healthier choices about how we live.”

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