Sat, Dec 20, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Bleak future for England's fat kids as they get fatter

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

A bleak future in which English children regularly die years before their parents because they are too fat was predicted on Thursday as official figures confirmed England's growing notoriety as a nation of chubbies.

More than one in five English men are now obese, a rise of two-thirds in a decade, and one in six boys under 15 is obese, a figure that has risen 60 percent in just nine years.

Among women and girls, the weight explosion is only slightly less dramatic. Again more than one in five women (22.8 percent) are obese, a rise of nearly 40 percent since 1993, whereas 42 percent more girls, just under 17 percent in all, are obese compared with nine years ago.

Almost a third of all children are either overweight or obese, up 50 percent from the mid-1990s, a rise that has sparked the growth of "fat camps" to trim children's bulging waistlines and prompted government ministers into an urgent review of what is threatening to turn into a public health disaster.

The latest figures were revealed by the British government in its health survey for England, commissioned from the independent National Centre for Social Research.

Fewer than 30 percent of men are now of "desirable" body mass index (BMI), a measure gained by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. The percentage of women in this category, with a BMI of 20 to 25, has fallen from 44.3 percent in 1993 to 37.4 percent last year.

But it is the steady rise in childhood obesity which most concerns researchers.

The trend has led the UK government to consider a range of measures, from advertising restrictions to the removal of fizzy drinks from school vending machines and new warnings over high-fat, high-sugar diets. Members of parliament (MPs) are also investigating a public health crisis which could cost Britain ?3.6 billion (US$6.3 billion) by the end of the decade. As many as 24 million adults in Britain are reckoned to be overweight or obese.

Although results of a survey of 12,000 children indicated a levelling off in the previously rapid rises of previous years, and even a fall in some age groups, the researchers suggested this could be due to sampling differences. Last year's study also involved about twice the number of the previous year.

One in 10 young men and one in eight young women are obese.

A researcher, Paola Primatesta, said the figures were "very worrying because we know there is a link between obesity and various diseases including diabetes and heart problems. Young people are increasingly vulnerable to these diseases."

Howard Stoate, the chairman of the all-party UK parliamentary group on obesity, said: "It is a time bomb. We haven't got the services to recognize the problem, let alone tackle it. It is going to be a more serious health problem than smoking.

"People sometimes find it difficult to face up to the fact they have a weight problem. We have not really developed the strategies to deal with this. If you are obese at 18, you are twice as likely to be dead at 50 than if you are at desirable weight. We are going to see significant numbers of people dying before their parents."

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