Cutting the fat

MASS outbreaks of illness have taken a heavy toll on humans through the ages. But now the UK and other Western countries are in the grip of a self-inflicted epidemic which may mean, for the first time, current generations live shorter lives than their parents.

Nearly two-thirds of adults and a third of children are overweight or obese.

Over-eating and a lack of exercise are combining to leave health services facing a timebomb from diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

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The problems have been recognised for at least a decade – but despite much noise, there has been little action.

Yesterday’s latest initiative by the Government focused on calorie intake and evidence most people eat 10 per cent too much each day.

But there was little else of note in the strategy from Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who said he wanted to avoid regulation of businesses but instead urged them to play a greater role in encouraging people to make healthier choices so numbers of overweight and obese begin to fall by 2020.

Little wonder then that campaigners described the long-awaited plans as “woefully inadequate”, and again attacked Ministers for working hand-in-hand with big businesses responsible for marketing products which cause obesity – despite their claims of recipe changes, reduced portions and clearer nutritional labelling.

Prime Minister David Cameron last week said he would consider a fat tax, similar to that introduced this month in Denmark on items including butter, milk, cheese and processed food. It is surely time to examine how this would work.

Ultimately, however, it is only action by individuals and, most importantly, by parents to instil good habits in children, that will tackle the problem.

Obesity and its related diseases already cost the NHS billions. It is an epidemic the country simply cannot afford.