Health $ Lifestyle

Is it now time to slap smoking-style restrictions on junk food? Sobering charts lay bare reality of UK’s ever-worsening obesity crisis amid claim nation’s bulging waistline is costing £100billion a year

Britain’s obesity crisis now costs the country nearly £100billion per year, according to a shock analysis that has sparked calls for ministers to tackle the scourge of junk food with the same aggressiveness as smoking.

Two thirds of all adults are now fat, compared to just half in the mid-90s. Of those, a quarter are obese.

Experts have blamed the nation’s ever-expanding waistline — as seen in MailOnline’s catalogue of charts — on the simultaneous rise of processed, calorie-laden food and sedentary, desk-bound lifestyles.

Until now, it was thought the entirely reversible problem cost Britain in the region of £60billion. 

This figure included the cost of the knock-on effects of being obese and the impact on the NHS, as well as the secondary costs like lost earnings from time off work due to illness and early deaths. 

The proportion of Brits overweight or obese has slowly grown over time, rising to two thirds as of 2021, the latest data available. No data was recorded for 2020 the year of the Covid pandemic

The proportion of Brits overweight or obese has slowly grown over time, rising to two thirds as of 2021, the latest data available. No data was recorded for 2020 the year of the Covid pandemic 

Thinktank The Tony Blair Institute (TBI) funded the new analysis, which in comparison to other estimates, accounted for the cost of people being overweight instead of just obesity, included economic losses and had updated inflation figures.

Ex-Government food tsar Henry Dimbleby, founder of fast-food chain Leon, warned the crisis threatens to turn Britain into ‘a sick and impoverished nation’ and said the TBI figures represented a ‘disaster’.

He told The Times: ‘Just look at smoking: it’s become ever more socially unacceptable to smoke. If we have social and political will, we can do the same for obesity.

‘Public spaces awash in junk food will one day be seen as just as outdated as the smoke-filled rooms of the past.’

TBI warned that if current trends continue, Britain’s bill could rise to £104biliion per year by 2040, though this figure is considered an underestimate.

Hermione Dace, TBI’s policy adviser, said: ‘Our new analysis underlines why Britain needs a fair deal between the food industry, the government and the public to prevent and treat obesity.

HOW TO CALCULATE YOUR BODY MASS INDEX – AND WHAT IT MEANS

Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. 

Standard Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in pounds / (height in inches x height in inches)) x 703

Metric Formula:

  • BMI = (weight in kilograms / (height in meters x height in meters))

Measurements:

  • Under 18.5: Underweight
  • 18.5 – 24.9: Healthy
  • 25 – 29.9: Overweight
  • 30 – 39.9: Obese 
  • 40+: Morbidly obese 

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‘We need a fresh approach to give people real options, rebalancing the food system in favour of healthy, cost-effective choices and disincentivising profiteering from ultra-processed and junk food.

‘The health of the nation and our economic growth and prosperity depend on it.’

Charities have repeatedly called on Rishi Sunak to take bold action on the problem.

On the back of his radical smoking ban, which will effectively prohibit today’s kids from ever legally buying cigarettes, experts demanded he treated obesity with the same priority.

For comparison, smoking is thought to cost the economy £17billion a year. But it is hard to compare the figure with that of obesity.

TBI analysis suggests the majority of the £98billion annual cost (£63billion) falls on overweight or obese Brits themselves, as well as their families.

This represents years of life in good health lost and the cost of the care their family then provide.

The NHS now spends an estimated £19billion on treating weight-related health problems, according to the analysis.  

By specific health problem related to obesity, high blood pressure was the biggest, costing £171 and £178 per fat man and woman each year, respectively.

Similarly high figures were recorded for type 2 diabetes and depression, which are both linked with being fat.

Rates are particularly higher in older demographics, with as few as 27 per cent of 45-54-year old's in England at a healthy weight

Rates are particularly higher in older demographics, with as few as 27 per cent of 45-54-year old’s in England at a healthy weight 

While the nation as a whole is too fat, rates are higher in certain groups with Brits living in more deprived areas, lower qualification, of Black ethnicity or disabled more likely to be struggling with their weight

While the nation as a whole is too fat, rates are higher in certain groups with Brits living in more deprived areas, lower qualification, of Black ethnicity or disabled more likely to be struggling with their weight

According to the latest global data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK's adult obesity rate lies at 26.2 per cent, while France sits at 17 per cent. South Korea and Japan recorded rates of 5.5 and 4.2 per cent respectively

According to the latest global data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UK’s adult obesity rate lies at 26.2 per cent, while France sits at 17 per cent. South Korea and Japan recorded rates of 5.5 and 4.2 per cent respectively

While low, when scaled up the reflect the sheer number of Brits who are fat, the TBI estimates amount to billions. 

The estimate on cost per illness included providing NHS hospital care, appointments and the supply of medication.

Lost productivity also costs the nation an additional £16billion. 

The analysis estimates there 350,000 Brits aged 50-64 who aren’t working because of their weight alone. 

Obesity — classed as a BMI of above 30 — was responsible for £74billion of the total spend, roughly three quarters, due to how much more seriously Brits were affected compared to just being overweight.

Ministers are hoping a wave of new drugs to tackle obesity, like the Wegovy weight-loss jab, will help turn the tide and get more Brits back to work.

Earlier this year it mooted plans to roll out the game-changing drugs to trim the country’s bulging benefits bill. 

But the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA), a coalition of over 50 health organisations, including the British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK, told MailOnline this was the wrong approach.

OHA director Katharine Jenner, said while they had their place, ultimately prevention was better than treatment and ministers needed to take a ‘much tougher approach’.

Children haven't been spared either, with an increasing portion becoming overweight or obese as they age. Data for 2021/22

Children haven’t been spared either, with an increasing portion becoming overweight or obese as they age. Data for 2021/22

Much like adults the proportion of children in England either obese or overweight have broadly increased over time

Much like adults the proportion of children in England either obese or overweight have broadly increased over time 

A quarter of kids in reception are now considered overweight, with one in 10 obese

 A quarter of kids in reception are now considered overweight, with one in 10 obese

‘Our concern is that weight loss drugs are currently being presented as a viable solution to obesity for the whole population,’ she said.   

‘They complement, but do not compete with, population measures like protecting kids from junk food advertising and encouraging companies to put healthier products on our supermarket shelves. 

‘If we only attempt to treat people without changing the environment that made them ill in the first place, we will simply be spending huge amounts of extra money in the NHS for little to no long-term benefit.’ 

Health campaign group Action on Salt called the TBI figures ‘scandalous’ and adding they showed the urgent need to implement anti-obesity measures. 

Group campaign lead Sonia Pombo told this website: ‘For years, the government has had every opportunity to tackle the UK’s obesity crisis which is now out of control and it’s scandalous that the cost to Britain has now increased by a whopping £40bn.

‘Now, more than ever, the UK’s population needs equitable access to healthy, affordable food and this can only be achieved with policies designed to rebalance our food system. 

‘These must include key measures, which are all ready to be implemented, such as mandatory targets for calorie, sugar and salt reduction, well enforced marketing and promotions restrictions and clearer, mandatory food labelling – driven by strong leadership.’

No10 previously committed to helping Brits get thinner but have since stepped back from what they have seen as ‘nanny-state’ style initiatives. 

Back in 2020, ex-PM Boris Johnson announced a ‘world-leading’ obesity action plan, partly inspired by how his own weight put him at greater risk of severe illness when he caught Covid. 

However, he later shied away from radical proposals put forward by Mr Dimbleby, who was asked by the Conservatives to produce recommendations to improve the nation’s diet and combat the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar and salt.

Almost a third of all reception-aged children (30.1 per cent) were considered fat in Knowsley, followed by Newcastle upon Tyne (27.5 per cent) and Blackpool (27 per cent)

Almost a third of all reception-aged children (30.1 per cent) were considered fat in Knowsley, followed by Newcastle upon Tyne (27.5 per cent) and Blackpool (27 per cent)

Among Year 6 pupils, national obesity fell from 23.4 per cent in 2021/22 to 22.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of children deemed either overweight or obese also dipped, from 37.8 per cent to 36.6. Both measures are above pre-pandemic levels

Among Year 6 pupils, national obesity fell from 23.4 per cent in 2021/22 to 22.7 per cent. Meanwhile, the proportion of children deemed either overweight or obese also dipped, from 37.8 per cent to 36.6. Both measures are above pre-pandemic levels

Tobacco use in the UK generates £10billion for the taxpayer but is estimated cost to society £17billion. Smoking rates have declined to just 12.9 per cent in recent years while obesity has soared to 65.5 per cent. Government estimates put the cost of obesity at £27billion per year, thought other estimates have put the figure much higher

Tobacco use in the UK generates £10billion for the taxpayer but is estimated cost to society £17billion. Smoking rates have declined to just 12.9 per cent in recent years while obesity has soared to 65.5 per cent. Government estimates put the cost of obesity at £27billion per year, thought other estimates have put the figure much higher 

The co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain called for taxes on salt and sugar — but his pleas sparked outrage after it was calculated they may add £60 to each person’s annual food bill.  

Surviving proposals— a ban on buy one get one free deals on unhealthy snacks and junk food adverts before 9pm — have subsequently been delayed by Mr Sunak.

Originally planned to be rolled out this year both policies have since been pushed back to 2025, with the PM citing an unwillingness to put pressure on family bills and wanting to give industry more time to prepare for the change, respectively. 

Eton-educated Mr Dimbleby resigned from his role in March this year, citing a lack of appetite within Government for necessary changes to tackle obesity.

Responding to the TBI analysis a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson insisted it was ‘taking firm action to tackle obesity’. 

Mr Sunak, defending his action on smoking amid calls for greater action on obesity, previously said the issue isn’t the biggest health crisis facing Britain and that ‘smoking is different to a pack of crisps or a piece of cake’. 

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