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Tuesday 25th October 2016

Obesity - the true picture

4th December 2007

Richard Vadon takes a closer look at the UK's obesity crisis in BBC Radio 4's The Investigation.


The government has warned that people in the UK are becoming heavier and that in 15 years most Britons will be overweight, with life expectancy reduced by 13 years. Health Secretary Alan Johnson has compared the crisis as being on the same scale as climate change.

Many studies associate being overweight or obese with an increased risk of developing serious illnesses, such as cancer.

The press has exhaustively reported on this topic, but what is the real truth about the scale of this crisis?

Dr Colin Waine, chair of the National Obesity Forum has said that the rise in obesity will cause the first drop in life expectancy for 200 years: "Children are likely to die before their parents".

However, although the nation's weight levels are increasing, a report commissioned by the government revealed that the predicted crisis will not significantly impact life expectancy. The Forecast report actually made the predication that the UK population would live longer.

Professor John Evans, from the School of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Loughborough University, said: "There is very little evidence to say that being overweight is a signifier of a person or a population's health".

In November an American study, led by Katherine Flegal of the USA Centre for Disease Control, showed that overweight people did not have a higher risk of dying from cancer or heart disease.

"There is actually a large amount of evidence that suggests that the overweight live the longest," she said.

The government is also using the wrong system - based on a 1990 benchmark - to report the numbers of obese people in the population. Adjustments to these measuring tools would more accurately reflect the true picture of obesity levels in the UK.

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