The challenge of obesity

'By 2050 60% of men and 40% of women could be clinically obese. Without action, obesity-related diseases will cost an extra £45.5 billion per year'

The recent report on obesity from the Government's Foresight Programme has attracted a lot of press coverage. This four page summary (PDF) is an interesting read, with some interesting new perspectives backed up by some weighty research.  The key messages for me were the concept of 'passive obesity' – the idea that Britons are getting progressively heavier simply because of our lifestyles – and the comparison with climate change in terms of the response required.

The report talks about the need for a societal response (across government and over the long term) yet public perceptions are likely to remain that obesity is essentially caused by individual greed and laziness. As Demos has reported, the government has increasingly targeted individual behaviour to achieve policy outcomes (eg diet, smoking, household energy use, pensions saving, recycling etc.) What will the balance be in the future between targeting individuals and the 'significant effective action at a population level' called for in the report?

As obesity rises up the policy agenda, resources will inevitably follow (it is already one of the 200 national indicators of local government performance). Given that this requires a change in values and attitudes it points to work with schools and children. I would also expect synergy with the increasing focus on quality of life and well-being, and responses to climate change relating to transport. This may in time also have implications for VCOs as employers (tax credits for employee gym schemes?)

Finally, if the trend is not halted then the obesity related healthcare costs will be significant (although this may be counter-balanced by a reverse in the ageing population). Rising costs will clearly impact upon levels of and priorities for public spending and/or levels of taxation and public views on the entitlement to public services.

Last updated at 16:00 Thu 03/Feb/11.
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