Page last updated at 01:47 GMT, Friday, 2 January 2009

Government targets obesity rates

Department of Health advert
The campaign warns of the dangers of too much fat in the body

The government has launched a healthy living campaign in a bid to stem rising obesity rates in England.

It includes television adverts warning too much body fat leads to cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Ministers warned that, if left alone, obese and overweight people would cost the taxpayer in England 50bn by 2050.

Tesco, Kellogg's and Unilever are among the companies who will be promoting the "eat well, move more, live longer" message in the "Change4Life" strategy.

The three-year initiative follows a Foresight report, published last year, which warned the government must act to stop Britain "sleepwalking" into a crisis.

Many people see fat as a vanity issue rather than a health issue and they need to see it as a health issue
Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson

The report, which was the largest UK study into obesity, backed by the government and compiled by 250 experts, said excess weight had become the norm in our "obesogenic" society.

By 2050 90% of today's children will be overweight or obese, it predicted.

Public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: "The message at the heart of the Change4Life campaign is that there are very serious health consequences associated with allowing dangerous amounts of fat to build up in our bodies."

She added that the extent of the obesity problem demands an "ambitious and innovative" approach that has not been tried before.

Branding

The television adverts, which will run for three months, were put together by Aardman Animations, the people behind Wallace and Gromit, and are designed to appeal to families.

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The Change4Life initiative branding will also be used by charities, local organisations and companies.

Unilever, the company behind Flora, will use the logo in its sponsorship of the London Marathon. The Co-op, National Convenience Stores and Tesco will have the branding in its shops and PepsiCo UK will run an advertising campaign to promote "active play" through sports personalities.

The campaign will be running in England. Scotland is already promoting similar messages through the Take Life On programme.

Dr Susan Jebb, head of nutrition and research at the Medical Research Council and government advisor on the campaign, said in the modern world it was "utterly astonishing" that anyone stayed slim.

"This is something even for those families who have a healthy weight now.

"We have got to give people the information they need to make informed decisions."

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said only 6% of people understood the health risks of being overweight.

"Many people see fat as a vanity issue rather than a health issue and they need to see it as a health issue."

Innovation

A recent report from the King's Fund urged the government to be more innovative in tackling healthy behaviour.

Report author Dr Tammy Boyce said the Change4Life programme showed the Department of Health was willing to embrace new methods to influence behaviour.

"Their decision to work with a range of partners to influence what and how we eat and exercise demonstrates a real commitment to tackling obesity and improving the nation's health.

This is the last chance the government have got to make something work
Tam Fry, National Obesity Forum

"Change4Life is a great opportunity to influence a range of players who play a part in the obesity epidemic, such as television, fast food outlets and schools."

Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said the enthusiasm behind the campaign was welcome.

However, he said he had reservations about whether there would be enough funding in place to match the might of industry.

Child obesity
"This is the last chance the government have got to make something work - if it doesn't work then there's nothing else one can do."

He said he was concerned the food and advertising industry was using partnership with government as a way of fending off the threat of legislation.

"In the end I think legislation will be required if we're going to nail the problem of obesity."



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