A report into public health is expected to urge the government to take a more co-ordinated approach to promoting better living.
The document will criticise individual schemes which encourage health and fitness as largely unsuccessful.
The report is expected to focus on to poor diet, lack of exercise, and alcohol abuse which costs the NHS millions of pounds.
Working class lifestyles are likely to be blamed for health inequalities.
Do you agree with the report? How should the government tackle public health?
This debate is now closed. Read your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:
The government has been nagging and hectoring for so long on the subject of diet and health that they have lost all credibility and respect. Addressing the commercial aspects would be more effective at this point, by, for example, controlling the use of excess salt and sugar in pre-prepared goods, and possibly by looking at the profligate use of hydrogenated oils.
Kate C, UK
The problem is that so much of what we produce is pre-prepared and packed full of chemicals. We should ban all advertising that promotes unhealthy food and drink as a 'glamorous' and convenient lifestyle choice.
If the government is serious about raising the tax on fatty foods, how about using the extra income to lowering the VAT on fresh fruit and vegetables, wholemeal bread and things that are generally considered good for us? It's easy to say that we shouldn't buy junk food and then raise the price, but that's just going to make it more difficult for poorer families to manage their food bills.
Start young. More PE classes in school, more sports after school, etc... Just telling people about the dangers is silly, we've got to give them a firm push in the right direction.
Jonathan Bensley, Melbourne, Australia
We should be promoting the much derided "home economics" in schools again. My parents taught me to cook and cooking with healthy ingredients is actually cheaper than pre-processed meals, it's just that a lot of people have no idea how to make basic meals. Preparing healthy meals at home is easy and does not take great amounts of time or effort, it is just that a lot of people don't know how to do it. We don't need Delia Smiths or Naked Chefs telling us how to create gastronomic fantasies but everyone should be able to manage simple home cooking.
Healthy lifestyles don't need to be promoted. Just stop the promotion of unhealthy ones for the sake of profit and health will return.
Eat healthy and live long. You are what you eat. I've heard that from previous generations. My grandparents on both sides were farmers. They ate what they raised. How is it nowadays what they ate isn't healthy, yet they lived long lives? Eating at fast food outlets, and then returning to the tube, is a sure path for being unfit. Far better is the family that has a balanced meal every day and sits at the table to have family conversation in the evening. Laughter is the best medicine.
Greg Larson, Cadillac, Michigan, USA
How can people - especially those of us who are hard up - be expected to eat properly and healthily when 'bad' food is cheaper, faster and easier to prepare? Given the option, most people will take the easy way out, regardless of good intentions. The only thing that's going to make a difference is if the government make it a whole lot more difficult to be unhealthy - which means, amongst other things, taxing the unhealthy stuff to subsidise the healthy stuff.
Josephine, Reading, UK
Only a few months ago the Government where expressing concern that "the media" was putting teenage girls under too much pressure to be thin. Now the Government is adding to this pressure - they need to make their minds up.
I found that reducing my stress levels allowed me to better reflect on other health issues and make some better rules for food and exercise. I also believe that the individual is first responsible for his health, only then comes government etc. I would much appreciate, though, if my employer installed microwaves at the workplace, so that I could have a decent lunch at the office instead of eating sandwiches (which are not the best thing to eat every day)or cold salads (which leave me hungry and make me eat loads of chocolates and snacks).
After living on a diet primarily consisting of Fray Bentos pies, snickers bars and similar foods, I developed severe medical complications. I suffered from heart palpitations and obesity, at one point weighing up to 18 stone. I think people should be aware of the dangers of eating in this way as it can become very self-destructive.
Darren Ward, Bristol, UK
I wish someone would open a gym business that was aimed at the 'average' person. Yep, that's right, some of us guys aren't too happy with how we look either! Every gym I've ever walked into has been full of either people who don't actually work out but are there just to eye up the talent and pose, or complete steroid freaks. My girlfriend loves her local gym, which is 'women-only' and offers a relaxed, non-intimidating atmosphere.
Lee, Hebburn, England
I think that this is just another bandwagon to jump on. How I live my life is no-one else's business but my own. If this means that I need to pay for my medical care, if required, then I don't mind. All of these healthy living fanatics should mind their own affairs. As for cycling, how can a person cycle if they live in a flat with no space for a bike?
Susan, Edinburgh, Scotland
There are two points that several people make that make me laugh. Firstly, surely people work much shorter hours now than was the average in the past. Spend less time watching TV and you'll find there's plenty of time for half an hour's exercise every day. Secondly those who say 'I can't do any exercise because I can't afford gym membership' - is there some new law that I missed that makes exercise illegal outside of a gym? Try walking a bit more instead of taking your car everywhere.
Nick, London, UK
I'm surprised how many people here equate exercise with gym membership. There are many forms (running, cycling, walking) that can be done without gyms and for a modest outlay). Who knows, they might even solve some of the countries transport problems as well?
Why don't people take responsibility for their lifestyle choices? Having said that, we might as well enjoy eating, drinking and smoking now as there won't be a pension to do all those things in our retirement!
As well as promoting responsible eating we should also promote responsible working. Long, stressful hours usually end with a few beers and junk food rather than a sit down healthy, balanced meal.
How are we supposed to get a true balanced diet when most of the food we are sold is "refined" and processed (chemically altered to strip it of nutrients that keep us healthy but go off quickly, so suppliers don't like them) ?
Ray G, London, England
How about some health storylines in Coronation Street and Eastenders?
Andrew M, Walsall, UK
I think that people are unhealthy because they are uneducated about healthy living. I think that all junk food adverts should be banned as the people watching them are prone to buy the product. I also think unhealthy food should be taxed to deter people.
Marie Hood, Newcastle, England
Surely, it would help if we had fewer cookery programmes and introduced some exercise programmes. We used to have about 5/10 minutes devoted to exercise on GMTV. It wasn't much, but now there is nothing and even that stopped some years ago.
Ruth Warren, Ilford, UK
End the supermarket rip-offs. I find fruit and veg in my local supermarkets at horrendous prices - up to two or three times what a local market stall charges for better quality produce. I know the supermarket has more overheads, but I thought they were supposed to be able to buy in bulk and bring the price down that way?
I eat whatever foods I want however fatty. The main thing is I exercise at least one hour per day on fitness equipment or weights. This helps burn of excess calories and speed up my metabolism. I don't smoke (never have) and gave up drinking alcohol three years ago. What is needed is to provide people with greater nutritional education and the facilities to exercise / become active.
James, Plymouth, England
When I was at school (about 30 years ago) most children arrived from the out lying villages by bus and only a small proportion of the children walked. The main difference is the amount of free space where children can play and ride bikes safely without adult supervision.
All this publicly about many children being obese has led my daughter to think she is fat - she is not, in fact clothes that fit her height are too loose on the waist. Whilst there is a problem, the government/media must be careful otherwise we could end up with children who are so worried about their weight that they don't eat properly.
1) Close all franchised fast food outlets.
2) Ban microwave chemical loaded meals.
3) Ban the "School Run"
4) Stop selling school playing fields.
5) Reduce the cost of access to sport to children, to the extent of making it free.
6) Close all supermarkets and return to the corner shop, grocer butcher etc. selling quality products at a reasonable price in the high-street.
Dave Jowett, Yate, UK
To David Yowett, Yate UK. How could your lists of bans and prohibitions be implemented in a free society? Are you suggesting that a police state is what is needed to improve the nation's health?
Maybe we should ban parking by parents within half a mile of schools unless disabled. The number of healthy people who drive the quarter of a mile to school is totally ridiculous. Get them into the habit of walking to school. Maybe they wont start adult life so fat then.
John Kelly, Cardiff, Wales
The government should back off and let those who choose to live unhealthily, choose not to exercise, and choose to cram rubbish down their greedy throats, to continue and cope with - and pay for - the consequences themselves. Everyone knows about healthy living, there is nothing more that can be done in terms of "education". The government needs to accept that individuals make their own choices. Our government should be concentrating on making our lives better: transport, crime, health service etc.
Tom Franklin, London, UK
I walk three miles from work to home every day. It's not much but its better than nothing. It doesn't cost me anything and a lot of the time is not far off as quick as driving considering all the people who use the roads round us.
Simon, Oxford, England
School meals must be dramatically improved to combat childhood obesity. In my high school, we were told of how the menus would be radically changed so that pupils could opt for a more healthy lunch. The only change made that is evident to me is the inclusion of (ludicrously priced) mineral water to vending machines and the school canteen. With Scotland's childhood obesity rates the highest in Europe, the authorities are kidding themselves if they think mineral water is going to address the problem.
The bottom line is that too many people are too lazy and can not be bothered to prepare meals themselves and eat convenience food which is always full of salt, fat, sugar and additives. It is only called convenience food because it is easy to throw it into a microwave. In the majority of cases, it is also much more expensive that fresh food.
C Beaven, Stevenage, UK
You don't need gym membership to get fit. Just run or cycle.
Malcolm, Wirral, UK
1) There should be free annual health checks that everyone is encouraged to use.
2) Tuck shops should be banned in schools and school dinners should be healthy and cheap.
3) Food labelling esp. for salt, fat and sugar should be clearer.
Chris G, Houghton Regis, UK
Let's look at this issue in perspective. Poor diet, lack of exercise etc do not just apply to the working class. One can be in the middle class but still eat badly and don't exercise. It is not what one can afford but how one make the best out of what they've got. Changing to a more active lifestyle is not difficult - walk more, move more. Cut down on alcohol. Stop smoking. Use the money saved to buy healthier food. We simply cannot afford to blame others for own our sloppy behaviour. If there's a will, there's a way.
Banning most advertising aimed at children and putting a very fast parking warden outside each school would soon solve the problems.
Nathan Hobbs, Luton, UK
Whether it's laziness, ignorance, stress, it doesn't matter, the advertising sniffer dogs have sussed it out and are campaigning accordingly, and they're only what they get paid for. Reducing advertising, or employing the same shock tactics as the Heart Foundation ads would probably make a big difference.
Ed Karten, London
We should promote healthy living as a good way of life. We should show the clear benefits and highlight possible dangers of not being "healthy". However, what still amazes me to this day is that the now middle-aged children of the 60/70s are so willing to give away freedoms to enforce their view of good living.
P Lansell, York, UK
Tax sugar at the same rate as petrol!
Marc Brett, Richmond, UK
I don't think people are making excuses when they say they're too tired to exercise or cook after work. I feel shattered when I get in and usually end up replaying the day's stressful events at work rather than going to the gym. Comparisons with 'the old days' are invalid as usually at least one person was at home all day back then, giving time to cook decent meals. These days both partners usually have to work to afford a mortgage and spend hours of their day commuting. The work-till-you-drop culture here in the UK has a lot to answer for!
People should be encouraged to eat healthily and exercise regularly but many people have such busy and demanding lifestyles now that it is a case of trying to fit it in to your day. I think it is outrageous that we allow alcohol abuse to use up money from the NHS when it should be spent on important matters like new diseases, Cancer, buying better and more advanced medical equipment.
Melissa Carlton, Paisley, Scotland
I believe that the answer is more psychological in origin. I think if someone is overeating and not exercising, then they obviously do not care about themselves enough to look after themselves properly. I think we need to look at why this is.
Ashley Toms, Bristol
Low pay and poor quality of life doesn't stop someone for going for a jog around the block...
Nathan Hobbs, Luton, UK
A lot of adults end up overweight, but all the research suggests that the groundwork for true obesity is laid down in childhood. Schools could provide nutrition advice for children AND their parents. The government could prevent advertising of junk food during prime-time TV hours, especially during children's television - if kids don't have these products pushed in their faces all the time, they probably won't want them so much.
S Weekes, Cardiff
Time and money! If I didn't work 12 hour days in my low paid university research job then I would have time to cook rather than grab a ready meal, time to go to the gym, swimming. If I wasn't badly paid I could live near work and have more time, I could live somewhere that's not run down, noisy and cold and I could have more sleep.... oh and I wouldn't have that second job tutoring to pay off the student loans... Let's hope I don't make mistakes in my work contributing to medical research!
Rachel, Cambs, UK
All these moans about "I can't afford to join a gym or go skiing" miss the point. Walking and running are free! As for long working hours and the relative cost of fruit and veg....80 years ago the working classes worked longer hours and food (including those fruit and veg) was relatively more expensive than today. Also no labour-saving devices etc¿ by my late grandmother's account, they still bought and prepared decent food whenever they could. It seems a section of the population these days just can't be bothered.
Liz G, London, UK
I wonder how many hours of television those people who say they have no time for exercise watch every evening? It's easy to make excuses. The prohibitive price of gym membership is also no excuse. Healthy activities such as running and cycling cost very little by comparison, and can be far more enjoyable and beneficial. People are just getting lazy, and the government needs to take action to change this.
O. Rees, Wales
Free healthcare for smokers should be stopped.
Jamie Samat, Northants, UK
I feel that people are not educated enough. It's alright for people to say "if people eat less fat then they will be healthier" but a lot of people know nothing about calories and fat grams. There is a lot of poverty in Scotland therefore people do not have access to this type of information as it is often on the internet. There is also a lot of depression that should be addressed. Some people may eat too much, but why do they do it? They are depressed and may need help from someone. The Government should try to help these people.
Fiona Quinn, Glasgow, Scotland
Stop designing cities for the convenience of motorists rather than the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. If people used their cars less, obesity would be less of a problem.
Doug, Reading, England
Double VAT on fatty foods and fast food outlets. Double tax on tobacco yearly. Make those with self-inflicted smoking and eating related illnesses pay for their own medical treatment. Ban the sale of sweets in schools. And ban smoking anywhere except in private houses.
Since the NHS effectively subsidises the costs of poor health choices, scrapping this monstrosity and switching to insurance would be the best thing to promote awareness of the effects of poor diet etc.
Rob Read, London UK
My children play a lot of sport both through state school and clubs, however it comes at a price, for example swimming lessons over £45 a term, football training/matches around £100 a year, golf lesson about £35 for six weeks, the list goes on. Until it is cheaper for children to start playing sports, it will be difficult to encourage them to participate late on in life.
For social issues such as this a carrot and stick approach usually works. Eat more carrots and stick to exercising regularly.
I think there is too much concern about obesity. People should concentrate more on the inner beauty rather than be obsessed by looks.
I think it would be a good idea to introduce nutritional education to very young children. Also, when I was at school, the sports lessons we had like netball/hockey are activities that hardly anybody would take beyond the school gates. Physical Education needs to move with the times. Lessons in the now fashionable Yoga or Pilates would surely be more interesting to youngsters these days and probably more beneficial. These activities can be practised easily at home too.
We are fortunate to be able to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from a market stall at about a third of the supermarket prices, while the latter's shelves are full of sugar, salt, fat and chemically enhanced, nutritionally empty garbage, masquerading as "food". The underlying theme is that it is in the interests of big business to make vast amounts of money, not only profiting from the unhealthy lifestyles of others, but actively promoting it through advertising, while the government sits and watches.
Better co-ordination but target from early age. 1)Stop adverts directed at children particularly those for fat and sugar saturated junk. 2) Free, fixed school meals for all children at least through primary and junior schooling coupled with the re-introduction of free milk for children at primary level. 3) Reduction in the amount of child orientated television particularly weekends and school holidays. 4) Cease the disposal of "excess school sports grounds". 5) Do away with the school runs.
We have single parent families and families where it is necessary for both parents to work so convenience food is here to stay. BUT the food manufacturers do have a lot to answer for. 'Healthy eating' meals which profess to help keep your weight down or help you lose weight are full of E numbers and sugar or it is full of chemical sweeteners so you are between a rock and a hard place. Do you take on the extra sugar (to make these supposedly low fat foods taste better) or do you fill yourself full of chemicals the effects of which are not fully known yet?
Whatever happened to the local bakery selling healthy bread, the local grocers selling fresh vegetables and fruit (not hot-housed stuff), and the milk man? No wonder we are so unhealthy! We have no time to focus on the important things in life!
At the moment one is expected to quit smoking and yet stay at work. Quitting is an extremely stressful time. How many might give up if employers offered a month off on full pay to achieve these ends. There is still ambivalence to smoking - OK to do it here, not OK to do it there. Some cohesive national policy is needed on this subject. Finally, booze is too easy to obtain - corner shops, supermarkets etc, and the quality of much of this hooch is suspect. Tinned lager and bitter in particular tends to be inferior to the draught version, and yet is available cheaply.
The Wandering Jew, UK
I really don't think this is a matter for the government. People are responsible for their own lifestyles and their own health and there is plenty of information available to help them choose the better options. As for blaming 'working-class' lifestyles; the 'non-working' lifestyle of some people is more to blame.
I think it would help a great deal if the cost of gym membership could be reduced or subsidised. Even the most basic fitness clubs can charge phenomenal amounts. Also, how about some sort of community sporting clubs? Places where people can play team sports together, but where the level of ability doesn't have to be that high.
Jenny, Manchester, UK
Rather than waste our taxes on gymnasia, we should provide health advisers through the NHS & make it compulsory to have an annual health check & advice at least annually. Those who don't follow this regime & advice should be charged for all their medical treatment. We could start the ball rolling by allowing the NHS to charge the full economic cost for treating all self inflicted illnesses.
Jerry Bushell, Exeter UK
Increase tax on alcohol and fatty foods, subsidise healthy food (fruit and vegetables) and make sports centres affordable. Give every healthy person between the ages of 16 and 70 a free bicycle and build more cycle paths. As a working class person, I cycle wherever I can, I go for walks when the weather is nice and I've discovered the pleasure of a mostly vegetarian diet. I've never felt better!
A lot of these problems are caused by low pay, poor quality of living and stress. If UK workers had better pay, a better standard of living, and less stress in their jobs, we would all lead more healthy lives. At the end of the day, a burger is going to cost considerably less than a pack of organic fruit and veg. As for alcohol abuse, if the government is really worried about this, why propose extending the licensing laws so people can drink more alcohol throughout the day?
Gary, Cardiff, UK
No amount of government initiatives or "advice" can encourage people to be healthy. Most people are naturally lazy, the only way to make them otherwise is to penalise them for their sloth. I can't see any government passing any such measure (such as charging for lifestyle-related medical treatment), so all they can do is pass judgement.
Damian Leach, UK
Do the working classes also run the companies which market unhealthy food, TV's and playstations? I think not. I also think a lot of our jobs must be to blame, I'd rather be at a desk than down a coalmine, but I cant help thinking we're fattening up like veal in our little office cubicles as we injure ourselves clicking on the mouse all day and eating chocolate to cheer us up.
Brian, Edinburgh, Scotland
The Government is pussy-footing around when it comes to public health. Half of the inequality in deaths between 'rich' and 'poor' could be wiped out if smoking could be reduced significantly in less well off sectors of society. As nicotine is a powerful drug of addiction, (more addictive than heroin) this requires radical action in the form of a smoking ban in public places at the very least. This is already happening in some other countries and about to happen in Ireland.
To all those who want people with 'self-inflicted' ailments to pay their own way should make sure that they don't injure themselves down at the gym - what is that if it isn't self-inflicted.
The easiest way to do it would be to promote it more in schools. I know they do a bit now but they tell you all about healthy eating, five portions of fruit and veg a day etc and then you go for your school lunch of no veg, pizza and chips.
Cat, Cambridge UK
Why doesn't the government get off the public's back and let people do what they want to do? What's next - state-mandated callisthenics every morning?
Gym membership should be made tax-deductible, rewarding those who make an effort to stay healthy.
John Rattray, London, UK
We are all responsible for our own health - we are provided with enough information to make our own decisions. Alcoholics and the excessively obese should pay for their own treatment as their illnesses are self-inflicted and they don't fund the NHS - the smokers do! (p.s. I have never smoked and object strongly to public smoking, however the tax on cigarettes means smokers are paying for their health care and everyone else's!)
Carol, Basildon, UK
I think fruit and vegetables should be cheaper to buy. It's more expensive to buy a healthy meal than it is to buy a 99p pizza in Safeway. When I was a student I lived on rubbish food purely because I did not have the money to eat healthily. Also gyms should be cheaper - the cheapest gym in my area has a £30 a month membership fee - you have to be earning a decent salary to justify paying that each month.
I think getting celebrities involved will help to actually push the message home. Seems people are not interested about anything unless their favourite celeb is on a healthy diet or whatever.
David Hilton, Hudds, UK
A healthy lifestyle needs 'people not profit' oriented society. Health is seen as an option rather than a necessity. Most of us are too busy trying to make ends meet to think about the extra cost of good food and leisure options.
Tim Yeo, speaking on Today this morning has a short memory. He said that Labour have done nothing to improve school sports since they took office 7 years ago. The school playing fields were not sold off in the last 7 years, but during the last Conservative Government term. Similarly, school milk was stopped during the Conservative Government. He forgot to mention these facts.
Chris Reed, London, UK
A healthy lifestyle consists of a well balanced diet and regular exercise. Promoting this shouldn't be difficult at all. We need to eat things in moderation not all the time as some studies have shown.
Kevin D, Eastbourne, UK
Until employers stop expecting 45 hour weeks out of there employees nothing will change. The majority of people are too tired to do any form of exercise after work, are too stressed to give up smoking and drinking and too depressed to give up the unhealthy food.
It really doesn't matter how much is spent on promoting better living due to the fact that, at the end of the day, how we live our lives is a personal choice. Most of us know the risks of binge drinking, smoking and fatty foods but we continue to do it through choice. Would it not be worth spending the funding giving to this on the NHS?
Unfortunately there is little that can be done. If people want to eat badly, drink and smoke then the government can't stop them. What can be done is to encourage food producers to use clear labelling, reduce salt and fat contents and use fewer additives. If our food was more naturally produced everyone would be healthier.
Lee B, Eastbourne, UK
I think it is great to encourage fitness to all; however the costs of joining a gym are so high, that I myself have stopped paying £50 a month(and that is the cheapest gym near where I live). I eat healthily, but the only element missing in my lifestyle is some exercise. But I am put off by the exorbitant prices.
Tax the fat! Or better still give tax breaks to people with a lower body mass index, that way those of us that don't burden the NHS because we can take responsibility for ourselves can be rewarded.
Iain, Chester, UK
Link National Insurance contributions to an annual health check. Not only will people make an effort to be healthier so as to pay less tax but employers who would have to pay more NI contributions would encourage healthier employees and only hire healthy people. The fear of being stigmatised as a second class citizen will force people to take responsibility for themselves. People, by nature, are lazy and a carrot and stick approach is needed. Alternatively abolish the NHS and force everyone to get private medical insurance. When people realise premiums are higher for unhealthy people they may get off their fat backside.
I would dearly love to see a system instituted whereby people who can be shown to have ignored acute health warnings are left to suffer the consequences of their own stupidity, rather than being supported throughout their demise by the taxpayer. I meet with plenty of people who continue to poison themselves with alcohol and/or cigarettes in the face of blatant warnings. Likewise, I know dozens of individuals who consume dangerous quantities of cholesterol without exercise, even though they are all too aware of the associated hazards. I feel no charity towards such people.
Alan Colquhoun, Livingston, Scotland
I believe improving the nation's health is a realistic goal. Why can we not stop the selling of sweets and chips at school? In Manchester kids are allowed out at lunch and they all head to the chip shop. Keep kids in school and offer healthy, exciting food at low prices.
Yes it would be nice to have a healthier lifestyle but please tell me where I fit this in with travel, work, attending to our basic needs and I will gladly have a healthier lifestyle. The people who come up with these ideas should live in the real world and work in the real world and I don't mean the "celeb" trying for a week, try it for at least 6 months and see what they come up with.
Eilidh Sloan, England
It is rare to see truly obese people in Switzerland because exercise and healthy eating are a natural part of life from the word go. Children grow up with skiing and sledging in the winter, mountain and forest walking in spring and autumn, and swimming and biking in the summer, all integrated with school and family life. Everyone is moving for pleasure, ALL year round. Good lifestyle and discipline stave off the potential effects of Swiss chocolates and cheeses.
Ed Johnson, Zurich Switzerland
By abolishing our long working hours, increasing the number of bank holidays, and creating tax incentives to healthier foods and activities. Its a shame all the government really want us to do is to work our bodies to death.
Peter Kropotkin, Stevenage, Herts
The government should do more to encourage sport in schools, especially in inner-city areas. We have no playing fields, no sports equipment, private sports centres are expensive and council facilities rarely offer crèche provision. Of course the working classes are unhealthy - we don't have the chance to get private tennis lessons or skiing holidays. All we can afford for fun is TV and cheap booze.