Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills
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Modern life has Nation sleepwalking towards obesity
The technological revolution of the 20th century has led to weight gain becoming inevitable for most people, because our bodies and biological make-up are out of step with our surroundings, says the latest report from Foresight, the Government's futures think-tank.
The study found that obesity has many causes and is a much more passive phenomenon than is often assumed. Our basic biological instincts combined with our modern environment means that we're destined to put on weight. The research found that the problem of obesity will take at least 30 years to reverse.
The 'Tackling Obesities: Future Choices' Foresight project, sponsored by the Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo, was an in-depth two-year study by almost 250 experts and scientists to examine the causes of obesity and map future trends to help Government plan effective policies both now and in the future.
Foresight's diverse evidence shows that only a comprehensive long term strategy will have an impact on the rising trends of obesity. Alignment with other policy goals such as climate change, social inclusion and wellbeing is vital. Preventing obesity requires major change - in the environment and in behaviour; in organisations as well as in communities, families and individuals.
Sir David King, the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and head of the Foresight Programme, believes a wholesale change in attitudes towards obesity is required.
"Foresight has for the first time drawn together complex evidence to show that we must fight the notion that the current obesity epidemic arises from individual over-indulgence or laziness alone. Personal responsibility is important, but our study shows the problem is much more complicated. It is a wake-up call for the nation, showing that only change across many elements of our society will help us tackle obesity.
"Stocking up on food was key to survival in prehistoric times, but now with energy dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work, obesity is rapidly becoming a consequence of modern life."
Welcoming the results, Public Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo said:
"The Department of Health sponsored this report, it is world-class research of the highest quality and will form an integral part of our drive to tackle obesity.
"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.
"We have made progress with improved physical activity levels at school, healthier school food for children, clearer food labelling and tougher restrictions on advertising foods high in fat and sugar to children - but we know that we need to go further and faster.
"With new resources from the CSR we are planning a long-term drive for action on obesity. There is high-level cross-govt commitment to addressing the challenges raised in the report, and we will provide the leadership, vision and sustained commitment required to help start this cultural and societal shift."
As part of the CSR announcement the Government signalled a new long-term ambition to tackle obesity across the population as part of the new Child health PSA to improve the health and wellbeing of children and young people.
Tackling childhood obesity remains a key cross-Government priority as part of this wider ambition: Our ambition is to reverse the rising tide of obesity and overweight in the population, by enabling everyone to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Our initial focus will be on children: By 2020, we aim to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels.
The study reveals:
* There is no one 'magic bullet' solution. Even if a new appetite suppressing drug was developed, it would not be the answer because the problem is systemic and requires a range of different actions to make a difference. Isolated initiatives are futile.
* The Foresight study includes a unique quantitative model to look at obesity patterns as far ahead as 2050, which suggests that if current levels continue, by 2050 about 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children in the UK will be obese. The associated chronic health problems are projected to cost society an additional £45.5 billion a year and reversing this trend will take several decades.
* The development of obesity is a much more passive phenomenon than is often assumed. People need to use active coping strategies, day-in day-out, to prevent weight gain and most don't succeed. The majority of UK adults today are overweight. Healthy behaviours are an inherent challenge in today's society. Being overweight is becoming normalised.
* There are as yet no concerted strategies or policy models that adequately address the problem, and the evidence for effective preventative measures is weak. There are few international examples of success on which the UK can draw although a growing number of demonstrator projects offer some promise. There is a strong case for these approaches to be expanded to one or two regions or cities in the UK as exemplars.
* Tackling obesity, like tackling climate change, is complex and will require cross-cutting changes to our society - from increasing everyday activity through the design of the built environment and transport systems, to shifting the drivers of the food chain and consumer purchasing patterns to favour healthier options.
* Policies aimed at different stages in the life course, in particular early intervention to establish appropriate child growth, healthy eating and early activity habits should be considered further.
* 'Tackling Obesities' was a Foresight project, involving Ministers and officials from the departments of Health; Culture, Media and Sport and Children, Schools and Families, alongside food retailers, local government and sports associations, and other stakeholders who will be responsible for implementing resulting policy initiatives several of whom have signed up to taking further action.
* As the project's sponsor, the Department of Health will now take responsibility for the research, using it to assist in policy development. A report in 12 months time will outline the project's progress including action by other stakeholders.
Notes to editors
1. Download the full report at http://www.foresight.gov.uk (only available from Wed 17th October.
2. Foresight is in the Government Office for Science, within the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills. DIUS brings together the nation's strengths in science, research, universities and colleges to build a dynamic, knowledge-based economy. Its primary role is to drive forward delivery of the Government's long-term vision to make Britain one of the best places in the world for science, research and innovation and to raise the level of education and skills at every level in our economy to give the UK the competitive edge.