The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges recently published a report containing 10 recommendations designed to tackle the UK's obesity epidemic. The UK is the 'fat man of Europe', with a quarter of men and women, and one in five 10-11 year olds being obese.
According to the World Health Organisation, the majority of people in the European Union are overweight and one in three are obese. This should come as no surprise as the sugar and fat content of our food has been rising and the portion sizes are much bigger than they used to be.
There is a general lack of awareness about portion sizes and healthy eating. The EU Common Agricultural Policy spends only 3% of its agricultural budget on fruit and vegetables - it spends a similar sum on sugar and six times as much on supporting beef production. No wonder then that fast food and junk food prices have generally gone down while the price of fresh fruit and vegetables has gone up!
This, combined with declining physical activity, has led to a rise in obesity. We used 2400 calories per week on grocery shopping in the 1950s compared to 276 calories per week (driving) or less (internet) now. Washing clothes by hand took 1500 calories per week compared to 270 calories by machine. We spent 1300 calories lighting a coal fire for heating and spend almost no calories with modern central heating. The younger generation spends more time on mobile devices and computer games than on physical activity.
As a result, rising obesity rates cost our NHS £4billion in 2011 and is projected to cost £6 billion by 2015. Lifestyle rationing is already practised in parts of the NHS in England in its drive to save money - some health authorities are denying NHS treatments to fat people.
Many solutions have been proposed to deal with this obesity crisis but none has so far been effective in reversing the trend. Denmark put a 'fat tax' on food in 2009 - a surcharge placed on foods that contain more than 2.3% saturated fat - but a year later got rid of it after admitting that the tax only increased companies' administrative costs and caused Danes to cross the border to purchase unhealthy food.
In Romania, taxes on unhealthy foods proposed in 2010 failed to get through, as parliamentarians feared that already bad diets among poor people would become even worse as they chose even cheaper foods. In 2011 Hungary also introduced a fat tax to combat rising obesity.
In the UK, as the obesity rates soar and healthcare costs rise, the government is contemplating putting a "fat tax" on food in England. Will this succeed in encouraging people to make healthy choices or will it drive them to buy cheaper, lower quality foods?
It is unlikely unless the public is made aware of healthy food and lifestyle choices, and healthy options are more affordable compared to the unhealthy ones.