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"A Public Health Disaster:" More Fresh Food Need to Save Britain's Obesity Crisis

The financial burden of obesity in the UK has escalated to nearly £100 billion annually, according to recent analysis.

This alarming figure has sparked urgent calls for governmental action against unhealthy food and a push for fresh ingredients. The cost, which has risen from £58 billion in 2020, is described as a "public health disaster" by Henry Dimbleby, a former government food advisor.


The Tony Blair Institute's study, conducted by Frontier Economics, reveals that the cost to individuals has increased from £45.2 billion to £63.1 billion, while the NHS's burden has grown from £10.8 billion to £19.2 billion.


The most significant rise is seen in societal costs, which have surged from £2.1 billion to £15.6 billion, largely due to lost productivity as a record 2.4 million people are now too unwell to work, often due to weight-related issues.


Dimbleby said Rishi Sunak was not interested in trying to tackle obesity and had wrongly chosen to try to eradicate smoking rather than improving dietary health. In 2020, Dimbleby published a government-commissioned blueprint to radically overhaul Britain’s eating habits and reliance on foods that increase the risk of killer diseases.


“You’ve got a prime minister who for his own, I think, kind of personal aesthetics almost would rather try to deal with smoking, which he sees as bad even though it is now a tiny and disappearing problem, rather than food because he likes to drink Coke,” Dimbleby told a nutrition conference at the Royal Society on Monday.


Dimbleby, a co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain, said food was a direct cause of three of the four main illnesses that are stopping the 2.4 million from working – type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and musculoskeletal conditions – and exacerbated the other, mental ill-health.


Calling for government intervention on diet, Dimbleby said Britons spent more on confectionery (£3.9bn a year) than fruit and vegetables (£2.2bn), and 85% of the food consumed would be deemed by the World Health Organization to be too unhealthy to be marketed to children.


In order to be healthier and break “the junk food cycle”, people needed to eat 30% more fruit and vegetables, 50% more fibre and 25% less food that is high in fat, salt or sugar, he said.


He urged ministers to launch a nationwide drive to teach young people to cook while at school, to close the skills gap between those who can and cannot cook from scratch and to reduce the use of prepared food.


The report also emphasises the misplaced reliance on weight loss drugs for tackling type 2 diabetes, suggesting that controlling the food industry and promoting fresh food would be more effective.


Katharine Jenner, director of the Obesity Health Alliance, pointed out the striking increase in costs during a period when the government had a plan to address obesity but failed to implement it. She said: said: “The huge increase in costs to £98bn, which now takes into account the value of health lost through illness and disease, is particularly striking as it has risen during a time the government has had a plan to address obesity – and failed to enact it.


“Thirty years ago, half of us were living with overweight or obesity, and now it is two-thirds of the population. In those 30 years, our food environment has changed beyond recognition into an obesogenic environment. It is not that our genes have changed but that we are surrounded by unhealthy food at every turn – on TV, in the shops, on our high streets and in our workplaces.


“If we only attempt to treat people without changing the environment that made them ill in the first place, we will simply be spending huge amounts of extra money in the NHS for little to no long-term benefit.”


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