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Thursday, 12 September, 2002, 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Obesity will 'become the norm'
Obesity rates are increasing
Three-quarters of the UK population could be overweight within the next 10-15 years, top experts have warned.

They say obesity will overtake smoking as Britain's top preventable killer.

And they have accused the government of being too scared of the food and transport industries to tackle the problem properly.

Obesity experts from across Europe are meeting to discuss the problem at a summit in Copenhagen.

The UK government has set up a strategy which includes giving schoolchildren a piece of fruit a day, improving school meals and encouraging young people to exercise.

But the former government advisor Professor Philip James, now chairman of the International Obesity Task Force, told the conference that not enough was being done to tackle the problem.

Scared to confront

Professor Philip James
Professor James called for more action
"Officials are pretty terrified around the whole of Europe about how to confront some of these huge vested interests.

"The fast food and soft drink industries have enormous turnovers, there is enormous vested interests which we need to confront.

"If we don't, the epidemic of childhood obesity is going to rip through Europe so fast - with Britain being in the worst category - that we will have clinics of diabetic children of 13, 14 years of age, where the evidence is pretty clear that they will have major problems of blindness by the time they get into their thirties.

"And the kidney units should be re-gearing because they are going to need enormous number of kidney transplants and dialysis."

Professor James said the UK government should follow the example of Finland, where there are strict regulations about the types of food that children can bring into school.

He also called for curbs on the advertising of food to children.

Government response

Dr Roger Boyle, national director for heart disease at the Department of Health, told the BBC that the government had not under-estimated the problem, and that many initiatives were already underway to encourage healthy eating and exercise.

"The important thing is to make sure there is full awareness of the problem, and to make sure that where there are choices for healthy living that they are easy choices and the public are encouraged to take them."

Obesity already costs the economy 2bn a year, and kills 30,000 people a year prematurely, according to the National Audit Office.

The BBC's Roger Harrabin reports
"People are just simply eating more calories than they're burning"
See also:

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