The problem of obesity will take at least 30 years to reverse, according to Professor Klim McPherson, Visiting Professor of Public Health Epidemiology at Oxford University, and co-author of a government report into tackling obesity in the UK over the next 40 years.
The report, ‘Tackling Obesities: Future Choices – Modelling future trends in obesity and their impact on health,’ published recently by Professor McPherson and Mr Tim Marsh (Associate Director of the National Heart Forum) shows that if current trends continue, at least half the population will be obese by 2032. In less than 15 years, 86 per cent of men will be overweight, and 70 per cent of women will reach the same level of obesity in 20 years time.
The report found obesity is a much more passive phenomenon than is often assumed, as our bodies and biological make-up become increasingly out of step with our surroundings. The Department of Health has warned that people need to use active coping strategies, day-in day-out, to prevent weight gain, and most do not succeed. The majority of UK adults today are overweight, and as a result obesity is becoming normalised.
‘Tackling Obesities’ was launched by the Government Office for Science, then the DTI, in July 2005 following analysis that revealed over 16 per cent of boys aged under 16 in England were obese, forecast to rise to 24 per cent by 2025. NHS spending linked to obesity is predicted to triple in less than a decade, and total costs of obesity could be an extra £45.5 billion per year by 2050.
Since its launch, the obesity project has consulted with more than 300 leading scientists and a wide range of businesses and NGOs. By creating a shared understanding of the relationships between key factors influencing obesity levels, the aim is to identify effective interventions. ‘Tackling Obesities’ is part of the government’s ‘Foresight’ initiative, using science-based methods to provide visions of the future, directed by Sir David King, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
Professor McPherson also led a small team in developing a prediction model for the quantitative assessment of the possible prevalence of obesity in the future, based on the assessment of current trends. Another simulation model can be used for investigating how levels of obesity would affect the levels, costs and effects on life expectancy of chronic disease for which obesity is a risk factor over the next 40 years. These include type 2 diabetes, chronic heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
‘Tackling Obesity’ research methods help to identify potential risks and opportunities in relation to the problem of obesity, which can enable policymakers to develop strategies to manage the future better. Obesity was considered from environmental, technological, epidemiological, economic, social, and political aspects.
The report is also sponsored by the Department of Health, and Public Health Minister Dawn Primarolo said: ‘Our initial focus will be on children. By 2020, we aim to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels.’
Full report is available at http://www.foresight.gov.uk/Obesity/Obesity_final/Index.html
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