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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June, 2004, 14:54 GMT 15:54 UK
What can be done to beat obesity?
A group of MPs has attacked the British government, food industry and advertisers for failing to act to stop rising levels of obesity.

The Commons Health Select Committee has also called for a "traffic light" system in stores to mark out healthy and unhealthy foods, and for annual fat tests for children.

The MPs also recommend measures such as cookery lessons and a voluntary ban by the food industry on TV junk food ads.

Meanwhile experts have met in Prague to discuss why more Europeans are becoming overweight.

Obesity is estimated to cause 70,000 new cancer cases in Europe every year and also increases the risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes.

How can obesity be beaten? What would encourage you to improve your eating habits?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far.

Children need some regular exercise
Maggie Lewis, Beckhampton, UK
One thing that is being overlooked is the decline in sports activities in schools in favour of meeting educational targets. While education is undoubtedly important, children need some regular exercise and if they aren't encouraged at home (or allowed to play endlessly on computers and game consoles) then it should be encouraged in schools.
Maggie Lewis, Beckhampton, UK

What a load of dangerous nonsense. People are overweight simply because they eat too much and don't exercise enough. If you or your children are overweight, it is YOUR fault and YOUR choice. It's not the fault of government, schools, food manufacturers, fast food restaurants, advertisers or anyone else you want to blame for your actions.
Ella Jane, Newcastle

Judging from the comments on this page, I don't think we have much to worry about. Nearly everyone seems to be awake to the problem. If the people on this page reflect the majority of the UK's population then there is hope for us all.
Daniel Smith, London, England

The cheapest foods in supermarkets are invariably the foods which are highest in fat. Food manufacturers should be targeted by the government in order to make foods lower in fat, cheaper.
Andrea Webb, Cardiff

Stop eating rubbish and take more exercise. This is not rocket science.
Chris Westhead, Blackpool, England

There are lots of reasons for obesity, including psychological and social factors. I wonder if those judgemental people who suggest that medical treatment should be withdrawn from the obese, would also support the withdrawal of treatment for those suffering from anorexia, or sexually transmitted diseases, drug abuse, or sports related injuries?
Kate, London

Eating a balanced meal ought to be encouraged rather than bulling people who are overweight
Megan Whyler, Wellingborough, UK
I think that its more important to focus on 'healthy eating' rather than losing weight. being thin doesn't mean your healthier than someone who is over weight. Eating a balanced meal, of the proper proportions ought to be encouraged rather than bulling people who are overweight.
Megan Whyler, Wellingborough, UK

Perhaps - to encourage people to do more physical activities - the government could introduce a ban on the 'long hours culture'? Coming back from work at 8 pm or - very often -much later will not give one any time to use the gym - even if money is here. It is simply too late. The extra hours people put in - usually for free - should be banned, More people will then pursue swimming, gym, walking and cycling. And I like the idea of labelling food - this would be so easy to recognise, instead of calculating from a small label we have now.
Nina, Guildford, Surrey

I was a guest at Portculus House yesterday - our MPs are a tubby lot and their canteen was full of biscuits and fattening sandwiches - is there a saying about glass houses?
Trina, UK

Neither kids nor adults are educated to a healthy lifestyle today
Lia, Greece
The problem is that neither kids nor adults are educated to a healthy lifestyle today. With both parents working, no space for kids to play outdoors and an increasing office - TV lifestyle, obesity is everything but surprising. I am totally against banning policies and totally supportive of education in this case. Teach the kids at school what eating well means; teach their parents simple ways to combine a hard day's work with the necessary care for their kids; provide safe exercise and activity facilities to neighbourhoods.
Lia, Greece

Obesity, overweight, fat, call it what you want, they all have the same damaging health effect. The government cannot enforce healthy eating on people, but it can raise awareness on the risks of this insidious phenomenon.
Prashanth Parameswaran, Washington DC

Proper education about what's actually in the food we eat would be a start as would proper labelling so that people could see at a glance. Supermarkets are crammed full of food that encourages people to eat badly. People's lifestyle these days doesn't lend itself to spending hours in the kitchen - you try buying healthy, decent ready meals.
Deb, Melksham, Wiltshire

It's no good blaming the government. The blame starts in the home. For a start, instead of taking the bus or car, take a walk instead. Children should be eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, not junk food. Eat junk and that is what you will end up looking like - junk.
Anon, Cardiff, Wales, UK

When I take my family out for a meal in any kind of restaurant (we avoid fast food places) the children's menu consists of the same old fatty rubbish - burger and chips, chicken nuggets and chips, pizza and chips etc. Even when you look for a healthy alternative its not there - no wonder our kids don't stand a chance!
Pamela, Cleveland, UK

Educate parents to educate their children
Sue, Shirley, UK
Educate parents to educate their children. My children have a balanced diet and don't miss out on treats such as fast foods and chocolate. They do plenty of exercise taking part in clubs such as swimming, rugby and football. Putting VAT on fast food won't help, look how much tax is on cigarettes, people haven't stopped buying them.
Sue, Shirley, UK

I think advertising is to blame all this new junk food that comes on the market is constantly shown .It was the same with Christmas presents admittedly advertising has been cut back till later in the year but if something is constantly bombarded at you being an adult or child it is hard to resist
Kathy Aldom, Weston-Super-Mare

The talk of "junk food" is part of the problem. You can get just as obese (if not more so) eating so called "proper" food like meat and two veg, fruit and the like. Fundamentally it is an excess of calorie intake over calorie expenditure that is the problem - more exercise and a bit less food is needed. Thirty years of "low fat" diet emphasis and constant sugar consumption per head over the same period have seen obesity explode, so we need to focus on exercise and moderation of calorie intake - not sound bites about particular food types.
Phil Thompson, Peterborough, UK

It would help if leisure facilities didn't insist that you need to be a member
Marcus, London, UK
It would help if leisure facilities didn't insist that you need to be a member. Even the council-run ones are at it! Whatever happened to pay as you go? In my case, I'm finding that booking badminton courts is not so easy these days. You either have to be a member to even use the court, or if you want to pay as you go, you can't pre-book more than a few hours ahead and just have to hope that the members haven't booked all the courts up.
Marcus, London, UK

I believe that in this country people eat too much processed food. Our European neighbours have access to more fresh produce than us and as well as this leading to high obesity rates, this probably also explains why the French, who's consumption of cigarettes and alcohol exceeds ours, have a lower death rate from cardiac diseases.
Simon Gould, Brighton, England

Parents should be held responsible for childhood obesity. In the case of the 3 year old who died of obesity, I certainly imagine if the child had died from under nourishment or malnutrition they would have been prosecuted so why not overeating?
Gordon , London, UK

I would like to remind people that being obese can be the result of an underlying medical problem. Spare a thought for people like me who have a under active thyroid, I am on medication but my weight keeps going up and up despite my best efforts. I take a fair amount of exercise, eat and have always eaten healthily, I don't like junk food or sweet things so don't eat them. One way to get people to exercise more would to get rid of cars, t least in towns and cities!
Sarah, Bristol, UK

Watching what one eats and choosing to exercise are responsibilities of the individual, not the state
Graham, Oxford, UK
The government shouldn't do anything at all. Watching what one eats and choosing to exercise are responsibilities of the individual, not the state. Any campaign mounted by the government is likely to be, at best, an ineffective waste of taxpayers money, or at worst, intrusive and patronising.
Graham, Oxford, UK

Lack of exercise is more of a problem than eating too much unhealthy food. So why are gyms so expensive? And why do most of them insist on an embarrassing induction involving tests of your weight and body fat composition? Just allow people to go to the gym for 50p a time and put clear instructions on each machine, and far more people will go, and feel less self-conscious about going for the first time.
Laura, Oxfordshire

Once again MPs throw up their hands in horror about the obesity epidemic. Though to be fair they have the grace to admit that too little has been done to encourage walking and cycling. Now our politicians are acting, many of them supporting a bill to force children to wear helmets when cycling. This will doubtless, if successful, deter even more youngsters from taking exercise. What strange times we live in.
Fred Higson, Nelson, Lancs

Force all fast food "restaurants" to have brochures supplied in all their outlets listing the calorific and saturated fat content of their food.
Dan M, UK

We're becoming a lazy inactive lot!
Jeremy Oakley, London
Just to widen the debate. We are now being sold a vast array of 'miracle' diet programmes and products which do nothing to encourage us to do enough exercise. Simply losing weight by dieting will not give us healthy hearts and respiratory systems. We're becoming a lazy inactive lot!
Jeremy Oakley, London

We should allow free liposuction on the NHS so we can all eat as much as we like and have it all sucked out of us at a later date.
Derek Scougall, Falkirk, UK

Overeating will be nothing to do with the enormous amount of stress we put on children even at primary school with constant homework and stress. Children are probably too busy reading and doing homework to run round outside.
Di, Manchester, UK

Read 'Fast Food Nation' by Eric Schlosser. If you knew what went into making your burger, you would never eat fast food or enter any fast food establishment ever again.
Darren Southworth, UK

Treat obese people as smokers have been treated for years
Chris, Bradford, UK
The best way of beating obesity is to treat obese people as smokers have been treated for years. Smokers pay a fortune in tax and have been encouraged by successive governments to continue. They are also treated like social outcasts, and the NHS refuses to treat them unless they give up smoking. Obese people do not create the enormous tax revenue that smokers do but cost the NHS more. Simple, refuse to treat people until they lose weight. This may seem harsh but it is as hard to give up smoking as it is to lose weight, and the campaign against smokers is working.
Chris, Bradford, UK

As a British solution, place an absolute ban on parking within 800m of schools between 08:00 - 09:00, and again between 15:00 -16:00. This would force kids, and their parents if they so desire, to get minimum 1600 metres walking done each school day.
Andrew Taylor, Nottingham, UK

If your child is fat - it is your fault
Vish, UK
If your child is fat - it is your fault. NOT genetics, not governmental policies, not the lack of time to cook decent meals because you don't have the guts to leave the office on time. I am overweight and it is MY fault, no one elses. Stop moaning for one minute. Please!
Vish, UK

In the lives we lead it's sometimes difficult to adhere to healthy living and eating. It's quite idealistic of some to simply say "Eat less" or "Exercise more". Even worse is the fact that my shopping bill is mostly 20 to 30 pounds more a week if I buy fruit and vegetables. Even worse if I buy organic (And I do like organic). So what are we to do? Most of us do not have the time or money to shop wisely let alone cook the stuff. Maybe if we had more time at home and less at work. Earned a sensible wage which allowed us to afford decent food and felt safe enough to pound the streets for exercise we could be a bit healthier!
Annie, Andover, Hants

Overweight people need the support of the community to help us get better. It's difficult to try and go out and exercise if you feel you're going to be mocked. Next time you see someone trying to make a change, give them a word or two of encouragement!

Kids need to be lean and fit and learn the discipline and the benefits of natural health
Nick, Brighton, UK
I think that we should introduce the choice of either gymnastics or martial arts into primary school and continue it through secondary school. Kids will be lean and fit and learn discipline and the benefits of natural health. Our societies obesity is a physical manifestation of it's lack of self control and direction.
Nick, Brighton, UK

A price reduction in fresh fruit and veg would encourage shoppers to buy more. Stop councils sending chips every day for school dinners. Allow parents to send a piece of fruit for primary school children to eat during break time.
Nicola Stubbs, Sheffield England

I would like my children not be exposed to very sophisticated marketing from TV ads at peak kids viewing times to school curriculum or sports sponsorship. They just can not make informed choices - I can for them but they're not with me 24/7. It's about protecting public health of those most vulnerable - more physical exercise is only part of the solution, and a ban on such junk food advertising is the only way. Not nanny state but saving lives and costs.
Vicki Hird, London, UK

Stop eating pies and exercise! Failing that we could always blame the teachers...
Chris H, UK

To tackle obesity, we have to understand the socio-economic context within which it breeds
Nathan, Birmingham, UK
I think obesity is a symptom of the consumption and convenience led culture within which we live. To tackle obesity, we have to understand the socio-economic context within which it breeds.
Nathan, Birmingham, UK

Simple. Eat less. Take more exercise. Make our streets safer for walking, cycling, playing. Build safe cycle paths, don't sell off the school sports fields. Stop building "out of town" supermarkets that can only be accessed by car.
Chris Davis, UK

The sandwich lady who visits work daily charges 50p for a banana and 36p for a chocolate bar! Go figure!!
Sarah Preston, Norwich, UK

People can't be forced to eat healthily anymore than the proverbial horse can be made to drink. Let's not waste money proving this point. Besides, all these fatties are making us slim people look even more fabulous! I say, leave them alone!!
Joseph, UK

Should we expect government guidelines on our toilet habits next?
Dean Allison, Maidenhead, UK
Why should the responsibility for this lie with anyone other than the individual? Or should we expect government guidelines on our toilet habits next?
Dean Allison, Maidenhead, UK

In my borough of Ealing - the council is planning on closing a swimming complex that teaches children to swim and replace it with an adult only fitness complex. With attitudes like this - is it a surprise that children's obesity will be a concern in the UK
Anuj, Ealing, UK

Now a days you only need to eat a burger and people think that he or she is unhealthy! All this talk of obesity is over blown and way out of real context.
Henry, UK

Being fat, I know how much it sucks, but no-one forced that food into my mouth. Fat people have no one to blame but themselves. And that includes me!
Paul Watling, Hull, England

Live and let live is fine, but live and let someone else pick up the tab is not!
Malcolm Peach, Slough, UK
While some obesity is a result of a genuine medical condition, too many people are jumping on this bandwagon as an excuse for their lack of personal responsibility. We are constantly hearing about the individuals' human rights to do what ever they like, but we seem to forget that with rights come responsibilities. If a person decides to eat junk food or allow their kids to eat junk food, then they have no one to blame but themselves when they become obese.

I don't mind if that's how they want to live their life, however I do object to my taxes being spent on rectifying the effects of this way of life. Live and let live is fine, but live and let someone else pick up the tab is not!
Malcolm Peach, Slough, UK

The plain & simple fact is that obesity is unhealthy and should be treated as it can be potentially life threatening and can lead to premature mortality. By monitoring eating habits, psychological behaviour & exercising regularly obesity may be controlled and even reduced. However if the problem is severe, then the help of specialists such as nutritionists, dieticians, doctors, psychologists and exercise physiologists should be sought out. After all, if you were having heart problems you would go see a cardiologist right??
Furqan Wasif, Nyc, USA

Anyone that prepares their own food from fresh ingredients knows that it tastes fantastic, makes them feel brilliant and does not necessarily have to take a lot of time. Avoid processed food and you will enjoy food and your life.
Andrew , Ilkley, UK

The sight of starving children in Africa saddens me and the sight of obese children in the UK sickens me. For all the tales of 'glandular' problems leading to weight problems, I see no evidence of these 'glandular' problems in the 3rd world. Send your excess food to Oxfam, loose weight and gain dignity.
Mark, London, UK

I am amazed at how cheap junk food is in this country, whereas fruit and vegetables are relatively expensive. Eliminating junk food at schools is also a good start along with good education, dedication of 1/2 day a week to competitive sport at school (as done in many countries).
Angela, London, UK

The public should be informed about healthy lifestyles (not just eating but exercise as well) and left to make the decision of what they eat to themselves. However, I do believe that adverts directed at children by fast food companies should be banned, just like cigarette adverts were banned.
Pete, Amsterdam NL

Make the School Run illegal for distances under a mile & a half! Stop parents coddling their fat kids and make them own up to their responsibilities and stop trying to blame somebody else for their own problems!
Adrian, London

There are just as many unhealthy thin people as their are fat ones
Danny, UK
There are just as many unhealthy thin people as their are fat ones. Some people are naturally thin, they eat rubbish, do no exercise, drink, smoke and have no respect for their health. These people will suffer just as much with ill health and be a burden to the NHS. Yes there are obese people who need help but it misses the point. All people should have a respectful attitude to themselves, their bodies and health, not just those people who are fat.
Danny, UK

Food habits start young - ban the selling of sweets and fizzy drinks in schools. Put a tax on fat and sugar. Labelling won't work - it hasn't with cigarettes.
Stewart MacInnes, Warrington, Cheshire

I mourn the passing of the high street. People used to work and shop locally and that usually meant walking. Supermarkets have come between customers and choice. They may be slightly cheaper, but you don't know exactly what you're buying. Often you are eating more fat or sugar than you realise. Supermarkets encourage laziness and unhealthy eating in many people. Buy local ingredients from local vendors wherever possible, and walk to see them, and I guarantee you will lose weight.
Tim, London, UK

At 3.5bn pounds a year fat people cost the country more than smokers (1.5bn - Lancet Dec 03) but at least smokers contribute 9.3bn revenue to the govt. Should fat people be forced to smoke? It makes economic sense and that seems to be the driving force behind the worry about fat people - how much will they cost to run in the future?!
Bob, UK

Leave it to personal choice
J.G., Scotland, UK
Give people information about what is a healthy diet, then make sure all products have a full ingredients list, then leave it to personal choice. Why should Big Brother tell me what I can eat or force me through high prices to eat a certain way? Everyone already knows what is good/bad for them yet they still put on weight, it's their choice.
J.G., Scotland, UK

Social class plays a large part in this discussion. Cheap, usually frozen foods are often pumped full of fat, rather than protein, for example. It is no coincidence that obesity and malnourishment levels are highest in the poorest communities.
Emma Newton, Didsbury, Manchester

Tax the fat!! Especially the burger and chips that some parents seem all too happy to feed to their Children on!!
Nick, Edinburgh

Fitness and healthy eating are the most important lessons to learn. However we should not judge people on their size. Years ago I was an underweight size 10, now I am a curvy size 14. I am happier, fitter and more relaxed and am not classed as overweight.
Anon, England

It isn't surprising people feed when they aren't hungry
Sophie, Swindon, UK
Surely overeating is linked to other forms of consumption. We are encouraged to shop for things we don't need, so it isn't surprising people feed when they aren't hungry. We should curb adverts for fast food, especially those aimed at children. We should also stop sports stars promoting crisps, burgers and fizzy drinks. If we remove the encouragement to buy and eat unhealthy food, people may find themselves less inclined to buy that bag of crisps next time they go to the supermarket.
Sophie, Swindon, UK

Cycle to work or school. Not only does it keep you fit but it could be much faster once you're used to it.
Sebastian, UK

Its funny how the NHS is expected to help these obese people, yet there are many doctors and nurses in the NHS that need to read and undertake the same advice they're serving to patients.
Brian, Bolton, UK

If people stopped being lazy and cooked proper meals instead of buying "instant" ready-meals and fast food and walked more places instead of relying on cars then it would help. Also, it is disturbing the amount of additives even in natural foods. I get all my meat and veg from local farmers rather than supermarkets so I know exactly what I'm getting, plus it's cheaper than the supermarket and it helps local farmers sustain an existence.
Natalie Doncaster, Peterborough, UK

We need to change people's attitudes to exercise, not their attitudes to food!
Andy, Leeds, UK
Most of the problems associated with obesity are down to too much food, and too little exercise. I am 6ft 2ins tall, and at Christmas this year, I weighed over 22 stone! Since then, I have started swimming 2 miles a week, cycling to the baths, more walking, and less television, and this alone (without reducing my food intake), has dropped my weight to 18.5 stone. We need to change people's attitudes to exercise, not their attitudes to food!
Andy, Leeds, UK

A few months' petrol costs will buy a bicycle, which costs nothing to run. The price of a burger meal will buy enough raw ingredients to make several portions of healthy food. Spend an hour watching soaps on the TV, or spend an hour swimming or playing football with friends. This is mostly about our lifestyle choices - common sense might just be our greatest ally.
Rob Cheesman, Bristol, UK

I think the government is being hypocritical in the sense that they blame fast food. Have they seen what they serve kids in schools?? Also, I don't think it's the food - its the lack of exercise. Digital TV, Playstations, the Internet: what reason is there to leave the house?
Robbie, UK

When I go supermarket shopping I deliberately follow a fat person. When you see them excitedly loading their trolley with cakes, buns and pies (usually while gasping for air and sweating), it puts you off┐ Also, never shop when hungry - it can be disastrous!
James Murphy, Dorset, UK

The US is the fattest country in the world, and yet their life expectancy is going up
Katherine, London, UK
Those 'estimated' figures are based on bad science. Increased incidence of diabetes is certainly concerning, but this whole 'obesity will kill off the western world' myth is getting massively out of proportion. The US for example is the fattest country in the world, and yet their life expectancy is going up. I'm not saying that obesity is a good thing, just that we should be keeping things in proportion. You could certainly argue though that over-consumption of food in the western world is causing environmental problems elsewhere (e.g. deforestation for cattle).
Katherine, London, UK

In response to Katherine's (UK) comment, America's life expectancy may be increasing but that doesn't mean their health is improving. Poorer health means more money is needed for hospital treatment, nursing care etc and increased pressure is placed on relatives to provide care where necessary. If people are living longer but their health is not improving (or even worsening) these costs will continue to increase. Is this really something we should be ignoring?
Laura, UK

How about taking your children out to play sports? Our family went out once a week to the tennis courts (squash in the winter), and then swam afterwards. Not only good for fitness and weight, but it provides valuable time to catch up with the family and enjoy each others' company.
Jo, Bristol, UK

If obese people don't take advice from health professionals, or take advantage of support offered to help them lose weight, then NHS treatment should be withdrawn for any obesity related illnesses they have. If they won't help themselves, why should the state help them?
Ian, UK

Start young - it is essential to provide PROPER meals in schools, meat and two veg, fruit, etc, decently prepared and cooked and provided to all children without exception. Remove all vending machines from schools and forbid children to bring in soft drinks. Water machines are excellent. Ensure that EVERY CHILD has at least one full session a day devoted to physical exercise in some form - gym, games, running, dancing, aerobics. None of that is too hard to do, and the effects would be dramatic.
Sally, London, England

Make junk food a special occasion rather than the daily meal
David, UK
Although some obesity (and certainly propensity towards) is certainly genetic, it comes down to parents. Make the kids go out to play and not sit around the console or TV. Make junk food a special occasion rather than the daily meal and check for saturated fats and hydronised oils in products. Ensure fruit and vegetables are part of a diet from an early age. Educate children about the stigma they'll face in the playground if they become obese and finally don't give into pester power. Easier said than done of course.
David, UK

It would be far better to emphasise improving health, rather than reducing weight. Being fat doesn't kill you, but some of the health and diet problems which result in obesity may do so.
Sarah, Nottingham, UK

Make junk food more expensive by adding VAT, and healthy food cheaper by subsidising it from the junk food revenue.
Enjay, Berkshire

Other than making being overweight a criminal offence nothing can be done to halt obesity. In a free society people have the right to eat what they want. Preventing obesity, like preventing smoking requires personal willpower, not ineffectual intervention and petty taxation from "the nanny state"
Peter, Nottingham

I have an amazing new innovative way of staying thin - stop eating when you're full!
Nichola Feeney, Dundee, Scotland

I have a major weight problem caused by a variety of factors, some of which are my fault, others not so. One thing I am doing is being vigilant over my daughter's diet and she is responding positively having loads of exercise and eating foods with low salt and sugar levels.
Chris Green, Hagley, Worcs, England


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