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Wednesday, March 31, 1999 Published at 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK


The English get fatter

The USA obesity problems are spreading to the UK

A fifth of English women and 17% of men are obese, according to a report for the Department of Health.

Official statistics, published on Wednesday, show the proportion of the population now classified as obese has risen by 4% since 1993.

In 1993, 13% of men and 16% of women were classified as obese.

The government says it is taking action to reverse the trend, but it does not expect an overnight solution.

Obesity is linked to serious health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, gall bladder disease, arthritis, musculoskeletal problems and some cancers.

It causes raised blood pressure and cholesterol levels which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Poverty and ignorance

Public health minister Tessa Jowell said: "We are greatly concerned about the risks to health of obesity.

"There are many reasons why obesity is on the increase, including lack of understanding of what constitutes a balanced diet, poverty, limited access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle.

"This means there is no single solution to the problem."

The government has set up various initiatives for reducing obesity and improving the nation's diet.

These include the Healthy Schools Programme which aims to tackle the habits which encourage obesity when they form - in childhood.

The programme includes initiatives to help children learn the importance of a balanced, healthy diet, to improve their cookery skills and to encourage them to develop healthy ways of getting to school.

The government has also set up Healthy Living Centres. These have no central blueprint, but could include initiatives between local agencies, such as food co-operatives and GP-prescribed exercise programmes.

Alcohol and smoking

The Health Survey, which polled over 8,500 people in England, also includes statistics on blood pressure, smoking, alcohol and attitudes to health.

It found that the number of women who drink over the officially defined safe limit has increased by 3% to 16% since 1993.

The number of men who drink to unhealthy levels has remained stable at 29% - with 36% of young men downing more than twice the daily advised level of alcohol at least once a week.

[ image: Anti-smoking messages do not seem to be working]
Anti-smoking messages do not seem to be working
The statistics also show that anti-smoking messages do not seem to be getting through.

The number of people smoking has remained broadly unchanged since 1993 at 29% of men and 27% of women.

But, surprisingly, the average blood pressure of men and women has fallen.

And around three quarters of the people surveyed considered themselves to be in good or very good health.

The Health Education Authority says the young and women - including pregnant women - are smoking because of tobacco company pressure.

However, older people were giving up.

Young women were also coming under more pressure to drink heavily because of the ladette culture.

Wynnie Chan, a nutrition scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "We are tending to creep towards American figures where at least 25% of the population is obese."

Part of the obesity problem was dietary, she said, and part was due to the introduction of labour-saving devices, like remote controls.

It is trying to encourage people to be "opportunistic" about exercise, for example, walking up stairs instead of taking the lift, and to reduce their saturated fat content.

The foundation is publishing its own report on obesity in May.


Also published on Wednesday are the annual CJD figures from the National Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance Unit in Edinburgh.

[ image: New variant CJD cases are currently confirmed by a brain biopsy after death]
New variant CJD cases are currently confirmed by a brain biopsy after death
It shows "an unusual increase" in the number of cases of nvCJD , related to BSE in cows, in the last quarter of 1998.

However, it says it is too early to know if this represents any underlying change in the incidence of the disease.

The report also finds a rise in the number of sporadic CJD cases, mostly in people aged over 70, but it says this could be due to better reporting.

It adds that there could be a link between a family history of dementia and sporadic CJD, but this is not proven.

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