UK united on obesity threat

The government’s proposals on tackling obesity have been greeted with widespread approval from public health organisations.

Health secretary Alan Johnson outlined plans to spend £372 million on the initiative in the Commons today, saying he wanted to reverse trends identified in last year’s Foresight report.

That predicted over half of men and women would become clinically obese by 2050, leading the government to set itself the target of becoming the first “major country” to “reverse the rising tide of obesity”.

Today’s proposals cover initiatives helping both children and adults to eat more healthily and take more exercise. Incentives for better health will be introduced while personalised advice and support will be made available.

Mr Johnson admitted it was difficult to keep a healthy weight in today’s society but used this as an argument in favour of increased government intervention.

“It is not the government’s role to hector or lecture people, but we do have a duty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles,” he said.

While most bodies acknowledged the need to do something about the problem of obesity, some attacked the government for not having acted soon enough.

Public health charity the King’s Fund said the measures were “welcome, if overdue”, while the British Retail Consortium claimed its market-driven support for healthy food had been making a difference for years.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats accused the Labour government of leaning towards the ‘nanny state’. Shadow health minister Stephen O’Brien said “over-weaning nanny-state lifestyle diktats” were undesirable, while Lib Dem health spokesperson Norman Lamb feared “lunchbox police” monitoring children’s eating habits at school.

Rebutting such claims, Mr Johnson told MPs: “On the one hand we are castigated for introducing an overweening nanny state, while on the other we are told that we have not taken enough action in this regard.”

And in response to Tory claims about playing fields, he added: “If we are going to take a cross-government approach to tackling this issue, I would ask for a less miserablist approach from those on the Conservative front bench.”