October 15, 2007 / 1:15 PM / 10 years ago

Obesity could be as big a problem as climate

LONDON (Reuters) - Obesity could be as big a crisis as climate change unless Britons start to lose weight soon, Health Secretary Alan Johnson warned on Sunday.

Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, addresses the annual Labour Party conference in Bournemouth, September 25, 2007.Obesity could be as big a crisis as climate change unless Britons start to lose weight soon, Johnson warned on Sunday. REUTERS/Stephen Hird

He said tackling obesity was a long-term central plank of government policy but all parts of society must play their part.

Johnson has asked the Food Standards Agency (FSA) to look at the use of trans fats and its contribution to increased cholesterol and the subsequent risk of coronary heart disease.

It will look at what the food industry can do to reduce the use of trans fats, a type of unsaturated fat.

The government will also launch a scheme where selected London doctors will give advice and support on physical activity to men and women who lead sedentary lifestyles.

”We know we must act,“ he said. ”We cannot afford not to act.

“For the first time, we are clear about the magnitude of the problem: we are facing a potential crisis on the scale of climate change and it is in everybody’s interest to turn things round.”

“There is no single solution to tackle obesity and it cannot be tackled by government action alone. We will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed at every level and every part of society,” he added.

A government-commissioned report by Foresight, being published next week, predicts that 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women could be clinically obese by 2050 and obesity-related diseases will cost an extra 45.5 billion pounds a year.

In 2005, a Health Survey for England report showed 21.2 percent of men and 21.5 percent of women were classified as obese, at a cost to the National Health Service of about one billion pounds a year and an additional 2.6 billion pounds to the economy.

Excess body fat is blamed for 58 percent of type 2 diabetes, 21 percent of heart disease and between 8 percent and 42 percent of certain cancers, such as endometrial, breast and colon.

Johnson is looking at action plans adopted in New York and Denmark to change practice around the use of trans fats.

Trans fats are industrially created by partially hydrogenating plant oils, and unlike other dietary fats are neither required nor beneficial healthwise.

“I will be asking the FSA to conduct an immediate investigation into all the evidence in this area to see if there is anything more we should be asking the food industry to do in this country.”

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