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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 07:13 GMT 08:13 UK
North-south health divide remains
Obesity rates around England

There is still a significant north-south health divide in England, government data has revealed.

Northern areas have higher obesity rates, more smoking-related deaths and lower life expectancies.

And Boston in Lincolnshire has been shown to have the highest obesity rate of any town in the country.

Prime minister Tony Blair said the government would risk being seen as a "nanny state" because it was important to get health messages to the public.

The government is to announce supermarkets, schools and bus companies will be part of a renewed fight against the obesity epidemic.

Mr Blair told the BBC the government had to tackle public health issues.

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"It's difficult for us, trying to balance not becoming a 'nanny state' which tells everyone what to do, and trying to educate people that there are real changes that they can make to improve their health and fitness.

"But when it has an impact, as it does and will do over the long term, on the whole of the country and our ability to afford the healthcare system, it's our job to put the facts before people."

Smoking hotspots

Obesity in Europe

The Health Profile of England report published on Tuesday- which shows the UK has the highest obesity rate in Europe - comes just two months after the Department of Health predicted 13m people in England would be obese by 2010 if nothing was done to tackle the problem.

It sets out the progress the government has made in tackling public health since the publication of its Choosing Health white paper in 2004.

Life expectancy is increasing for all groups in society.

But there is still a clear north/south divide, with women in the north living on average one year less than those in the south.

Northern men's life expectancy is two years shorter than men in the south.

The government reports 1.2m people have stopped smoking since 1998.

Smoking deaths in England

But Yorkshire and Humber, the North West and the North East regions have higher than average death rates from smoking-related diseases.

Health minister Caroline Flint said: "People will only change their behaviour when they decide changing is worth the results."

She added: "Parents are not always embracing healthy eating and active lifestyles as it is perceived to be too challenging.

"We want to support parents to make them feel more able to make the changes that are needed to make a big difference to their own - and their children's lives."

Entrenched problem

But Dr Ian Campbell, medical director of the charity Weight Concern, said: "The problem of obesity is too entrenched to be simply an issue of issuing more advice.

Life expectancy around England

"It's difficult to deal with that information.

"Instead, we need to change the environment and make it easier for people to be healthy, with measures such as cutting the aggressive marketing of unhealthy foods and making it safer for people to cycle or walk."

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation said: "The north-south health divide has been a problem for decades and it is concerning that the gap is showing no signs of narrowing.

"If the government is serious about addressing the growing rates of obesity, and we believe it is, it needs to put its money where its mouth is and truly commit to a preventative approach to health."

And Dr Chris Spencer-Jones, chair of the BMA's public health committee said public health must be given a greater priority within the NHS, and primary care trusts now given the freedom to focus on the local needs.

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Andrew Lansley, the Shadow Health Secretary, said the government had abandoned Tory measures to tackle obesity when it came into office, and done nothing itself to tackle the problem.

"We have got to have serious interventions: more school nurses, more health visitors who are routinely working with families at home, and a food labelling scheme consistently applied across all products which shows people what guideline daily amounts are, and which helps them to build a good diet."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Health maps for England show the north-south divide



SEE ALSO
'No time for a cream cake'
09 Oct 06 |  Health
Obesity epidemic tops 1.7bn
17 Mar 03 |  Health

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