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LGA - Cost of tackling obesity set to rise by tens of millions for councils

The cost to council taxpayers of tackling obesity is set to rise by tens of millions of pounds in just one year, according to new figures released by local government leaders.

Spending on the growing obesity epidemic is expected this year to reach over £127 million, a 21 per cent increase on the previous year's figures when councils in England spent £105 million.

Local government leaders are now warning that we need immediate action to tackle the problem and effectively support the country's three and a half million overweight or obese children.

Councils have seen obesity levels rise sharply over the last 20 years. It is an epidemic which could see as many as half of the population obese by 2050. Recent figures show that almost 30 per cent of 2 to 15 year olds are obese or overweight with the UK having one of the highest obesity levels in Western Europe.

Whilst councils are doing what they can within their limited resources, the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is calling for a fifth of the current VAT from the sales of fast food, soft drinks and confectionery to be used to directly confront the issue.

The extra £1 billion that would be generated could be used by councils to help transform the lives of millions of overweight or obese children in this country and go towards the estimated £5 billion taxpayers spend each year on health problems associated with being overweight. Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Chair of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, said:

"Obesity is the greatest public health emergency we face today and something must be done urgently to tackle the issue.

"Our children deserve better than a future of poor health, but it is too late to act when the damage has already been done. Councils are already doing what they can, but they need to be properly resourced to make a real difference. The extra £22 million funding that councils have committed to tackling obesity is enough to pay for over 700 social workers at a time when councils are experiencing 40 per cent cuts. The Government needs to make a significant injection of resource to help find ways to ensure we avoid an even worse situation in the next 30 years.

"Councils are without doubt the best placed to tackle obesity before it becomes a problem, joining up services with leisure centres, transport, education about health and community run activity schemes. Using money that the Government raises through the VAT from unhealthy food and drinks could directly transform the lives of three and a half million overweight young people and would be a much better use of funds rather than just boosting the Treasury pot."

Being overweight or obese significantly raises the risk of developing diseases and health problems like diabetes and heart disease and can also have a direct negative impact on mental health and social difficulties. The chief executive of the NHS has recently warned that obesity will bankrupt the health service unless Britain gets serious about tackling the problem.

Many councils are already working in innovative schemes which are helping families with children stay healthy, such as the introduction of green gyms and working with schools and on community projects which use targeted education and advice on how to cook and eat healthily on a budget.

Notes to editors

  1. Local authorities in England are predicted to spend over £127 million tackling obesity in 2013/14 with almost £55 million being spent on childhood obesity alone, according to the DCLG Revenue Account budget returns:
    Local Authority Revenue Expenditure and Financing 2013-2014 Budget England
  2. A recent study published in the BMC Public Health journal supported health experts calls to cut recommendations of sugar consumption by advising that sugar should only account for 3 per cent of individual energy intake. Previously the World Health Organisation suggested this should be reduce from 10 per cent to 5 per cent.
  3. Government figures show that £5 billion is spent each year on health problems associated with obesity
    Reducing obesity and improving diet
  4. Data available from the Health Survey for England (HSE), shows that around 28 per cent of children aged 2 to 15 were classed as either overweight or obese – Childhood Obesity Overview
  5. The National Obesity Forum's report, State of the Nation's Waistline, 2014 states that the half the UK population could be obese by 2050 at a cost of £50 billion a year – State of the nation's waistline
  6. The UK has higher levels of obese and overweight people than anywhere in western Europe except for Iceland and Malta, according to a study published in the Lancet Journal – Global, regional and national prevalence of overweight and obesity in children and adults 1980-2013
  7. Last year councils took over responsibility for public health for children and adults and next year local councils will take on the responsibility for younger children aged between 0-5. Part of this role will involve councils finding innovative ways to put money into preventative health measures that will enable people to live more healthy lifestyles.


Victoria Daly, Senior Media Officer Local Government Association
Telephone: 020 7664 3308
Email: victoria.daly@local.gov.uk
Media Office (out-of-hours contact): 020 7664 3333
Local Government House, Smith Square, London SW1P 3HZ


Channel website: https://www.icaew.com

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