“Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A Call to Action on Obesity”

Health written statement – made on 13th October 2011.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley The Secretary of State for Health

The Government are today publishing “Healthy Lives, Healthy People: A call to action on obesity in England”.

The public health White Paper “Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Our strategy for public health in England” sets out the coalition Government’s commitment to improve the health of the nation, and to improve the health of the poorest, fastest. It describes the radical shift that we are making in the way we tackle public health challenges.

The White Paper committed us to publishing a number of follow-on documents on how we will address specific public health challenges. The call to action is the second of these documents, and sets out how our vision for public health will enable us to achieve a new level of ambition in addressing overweight and obesity.

England has some of the highest rates of obesity in the developed world. It is a major risk factor for diseases such as cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes and costs the NHS more than £5 billion each year. Alongside the serious ill health it can lead to, it can impact on employment, self-esteem and mental health.

Such a pressing issue calls for bold action—by Government and across the range of partners with a role to play. Our White Paper underlined the importance of taking a life course approach to public health issues, and the call to action reflects this by setting out two new national ambitions to achieve a downward trend in overweight and obesity in both children and adults by 2020. Given that more than 60% of the adult population is already overweight or obese, we must tackle the major problem that we already have as well as continuing to focus on prevention.

Our approach to obesity is based on the latest scientific evidence, including advice from a group of independent experts which has estimated the extent of our over-consumption of calories. Being overweight and obese are a direct consequence of taking on more calories through food or drink than we need. We need to be honest with ourselves and recognise that we need to make some changes to control our weight. For most of us who are overweight and obese, reducing the amount of calories we consume is key to weight loss. Increasing physical activity can also be helpful alongside calorie reduction in achieving weight loss and sustaining a healthy body weight, as well as improving overall health.

In setting our new national ambitions, we are clear that it is for each of us to make our own decisions about how we live our lives. But it is important that people are equipped to make the best choices for themselves and their families, and that the healthier choice becomes the easier choice. Everyone has a role to play in this—including businesses in the food and drink and physical activity sectors, employers who can support the health of their work force, and local NHS staff in talking to people about overweight and obesity and its consequences.

We are also calling on business to play a greater and leading role (alongside Government and others) in supporting the population in reducing its calorie intake by 5 billion calories a day to help close the crucial imbalance between energy in and energy out. It is important for business to reduce the calorie content of everyday foods and drinks, making our environment less likely to lead to weight gain, as it is for each of us to avoid eating too much.

As set out in the White Paper, localism is at the heart of the new approach to public health and local leadership will be critically important in preventing and tackling overweight and obesity. Local authorities will have a new enhanced role, supported by a ring-fenced budget, and will bring together local partners with a role in providing effective interventions—including the NHS. The call to action sets out the opportunity that this will bring and the way in which it will help to ensure that action on obesity is tailored to meet the needs of different communities and address health inequalities, rather than imposing a top-down approach.

As reducing levels of overweight and obesity is “everybody’s business”, it is important that everyone with a part to play to knows what progress is being made. The new national ambitions provide a clear goal to aim for, and a new national ambition review group for obesity will draw together a wide coalition of partners to assess progress.

The Government invite all those committed to preventing and tackling overweight and obesity to respond to this call to action and play their part.

“Healthy Lives, Healthy People. A call to action on obesity in England”, as well as the Change4Life marketing strategy—also published today—have been placed in the Library. Copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office and to noble Lords from the Printed Paper Office.