A new programme aimed at tackling obesity and improving the nation’s fitness through better diets and more exercise is to be rolled out across the country.
Latest figures in a report from the European Commission have shown that the obesity rate in the UK has increased over the past decade, making it the second highest in the European Union.
But NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens stressed that “if we get our act together”, the country can prove obesity is not inevitable.
As part of the programme, thousands of people at risk of diabetes will be offered support to improve their health.
From next month, NHS England will work with Diabetes UK, Public Health England and local politicians to develop the first national programme to prevent the growth of the disease.
Mr Stevens said: “The ghost of Christmases past reminds us that 20 years ago we didn’t have these problems as a nation.
“The ghost of Christmases future tells us that if we get our act together – as the NHS, as parents, as schools, the food industry – we can get back in shape.”
Criticising as “daft” recent judgments by the European Court of Justice, one of which said people who are obese could also be considered disabled, Mr Stevens said obesity was not something to be accepted.
He added: “Rather than recent daft judgments by the European Court practically pretending that obesity is inevitable, in England in 2015 we’re going to start proving that it isn’t.
“That’s why the NHS is going to be funding a new national programme, proven to work, that will offer tens of thousands of people at risk of diabetes proper support to get healthier, eat better and exercise more.”
The NHS England leader said those at risk of diabetes can cut their chances of getting the disease by 60 per cent if they lose between five and seven per cent of their body weight.
“If this was a pill we’d be popping it –instead its a well designed programme of exercise, eating well and making smart health choices, and we’re going to start making it available free on the NHS.”
An individual is considered obese if their body mass index is over 30.
It is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of his or her height in metres.
Around two thirds of adults in Yorkshire are overweight or obese but rates vary significantly from area to area.
Official figures from Public Health England suggest nearly three quarters are unhealthy weights in Doncaster, and Ryedale in North Yorkshire, falling to 58 per cent in York.
Being overweight is the prime cause of Type 2 diabetes which can lead to major complications including strokes, blindness and circulatory disorders which leave sufferers at risk of amputation, putting huge extra costs on NHS services.
About 9.6 million people in England are at risk of Type 2 diabetes –around one in four of the adult population.
And there are concerns many more could develop Type 2 diabetes in years to come, amid evidence a third of children leaving primary school are overweight or obese.
It is estimated four in five cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable or can be delayed by simple measures to follow a healthy diet and become more active.