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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 00:09 GMT 01:09 UK
Children's diets 'must improve'
Children eating at school
The report recommends school meals should be healthier
Improving children's eating habits is the key to tackling an obesity "timebomb", MPs have warned.

The Commons Health Select Committee attacks the government, food industry and advertisers for failing to act to stop rising levels of obesity.

It says obesity costs England 3.7bn a year and warns levels of diabetes, cancer and heart disease will rise.

Its report calls for measures such as cookery lessons and a voluntary ban by the food industry on TV junk food ads.

It also calls for a "traffic light" system in stores to mark out healthy and unhealthy foods, and for annual fat tests for children.

We have lost the plot with public health perhaps for the last 30 years.
David Hinchliffe, Health Select Committee chairman

The committee's report, which makes 69 conclusions and recommendations, says that if present trends continue, obesity will soon surpass smoking as the greatest cause of premature loss of life.

Three-quarters of adults are now overweight, with 22% of them obese.

England has seen the fastest growth in obesity in Europe and childhood obesity has tripled in the past 20 years.

The report cites the case of an obese three-year-old who died of heart failure. It says this kind of case is rare, but warns it is a portent of things to come.

It warns that obese children could become the first generation to die before their parents.

'Inadequate care'

Measures recommended in the report range from a national food survey to see what people are really eating to legislation for the "traffic light" food labelling system.

Under the system, red would identify high-energy foods which were high in sugar and fat, amber would be medium energy and green would identify the healthiest options.

Key facts and figures on how Britain is getting fatter

The Co-op supermarket chain, which already has such a system in place, was praised in the report.

Tesco has announced plans to test out a similar scheme.

The report also calls on the NHS to make obesity services more of a priority.

It focuses on the "desperate inadequacy" of treatment and support for obese children.

The food industry is the subject of severe criticism in the report - particularly for campaigns which encourage children to "pester" parents for junk foods.

Committee chairman David Hinchliffe said: "We have lost the plot with public health perhaps for the last 30 years.

"Our inquiry is a wake-up call for government to show that the causes of ill health need to be tackled by many departments, not just health.

"It is simply unacceptable that sports and education ministers should have endorsed initiatives to supply schools with sporting equipment or books but which required children to buy Cadbury's chocolate or Walker's crisps.

"We found a total lack of joined-up solutions at present."

Mr Hinchliffe said reform of transport would be a key factor.

He said it was unacceptable that people could not cross roads without "taking their lives into their hands".

'No quick-fixes'

Responding to the report, Health Secretary John Reid said the government shared the committee's concerns over the health impact of obesity.

He said it would be addressed in the White Paper on Public Health, due out in the summer. Mr Reid said the government had already established a Cabinet public health committee overseeing all departments.

Mr Reid added: "We recognise that these issues are not just a matter for government - they involve individuals and the choices they make, as well as the food and leisure industry."

He added: "We will consider the recommendations in this report carefully and it is a valuable contribution to the consultation process we are using to inform our White Paper."

Food and Drink Federation Deputy Director General Martin Paterson said: "The entire food and drink chain from farmers to caterers is clear that our industry must be a part of the solution.

"However, the obesity problem is complex and multi-faceted: there are no quick fixes."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rajesh Mirchandani
"The report... says obesity could soon overtake smoking as Britain's biggest killer"



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