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Obese Britons outnumber Italians, three to one

By Elsa McLaren and agencies

Britain is the "fattest" country in Europe, according to a map of the the nation's health published today.

Figures in the The Health Profile of England report show that 24 per cent of people in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are obese, compared with 8 per cent in Italy, 9 per cent in France and 12 per cent in Germany and Spain.

With the rates of obesity in children and adults continuing to rise the UK's place at the top of Europe's fat league looks unlikely to change in the future.

Between 1995 and 2004 the proportion of obese children has risen by more than 40 per cent and in the decade up to 2004 the proportion of obese men has risen by more than 50 per cent and by 36 per cent for women.

The findings in the report show that the proportion of people in England eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is low and only increasing slowly.

Just over one quarter of people living in London and the South East eat their recommended daily amount of fruit and vegetables which drops to only a fifth or less in Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East.

The report by the Department of Health provides the most comprehensive picture yet of the state of the public’s health and it is hoped that the information will help areas measure their progress in tackling health inequalities and seek help from those performing better.

It shows that there still remains a significant North-South health divide with those living in the North more likely to be obese, die from a smoking-related illness and have a lower life expectancy.

However, on a visit to a community centre in Leyton, East London, Tony Blair said that the divide in the country was more between rich and poor than North and South.

“Most people want to lead healthy and fitter lives ... but they often find it very difficult to access the facilities they need,” he said.

“The Government cannot end up forcing people to lead more healthy lives. It is for us to make our own decisions and exercise responsibility. But all the evidence now shows that even quite small changes in diet and exercise make a major difference to the lives that people lead.”

He said it was important for the NHS to use its resources to encourage people to become healthier. “We have to get away from the idea that health care is just about treating people when they’re sick and encourage people to lead more healthy lives,” he said.

Some areas of the nation's health have improved according to the report which shows that 1.2 million people have stopped smoking since 1998 and that life expectancy has risen for both men and women. 

Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “The North-South health divide has been a problem for decades and it is concerning that the gap is showing no signs of narrowing. 

“The Government’s new health map paints a picture of a country struggling with some serious public health issues in particular areas. If used properly, this local data should motivate Primary Care Trusts and councils to work together with their communities to tackle these problems in a co-ordinated way.

“If the Government is serious about addressing the growing rates of obesity, and we believe it is, it needs to put its money where its mouth is and truly commit to a preventative approach to health.”

TEN HEALTH FACTS

Boston in Lincolnshire has been named as England's fattest town after recording the highest obesity rates in the country.

  • Five year-olds in the West Midlands and the South East have, on average, one decayed, missing or filled tooth.
  • Older people living in the North East, Yorkshire and Humber, and London are more likely to receive help to live at home than older people in other areas.
  • Life expectancy for men in the North is two years shorter than for men in the South.
  • The proportion of men in the North East who consider their health to be 'not good' is almost double of that of men living in the South East.
  • If the current obesity trend continues, nearly a third of boys and girls under 11 will be obese by 2010.
  • In 2005, 17 per cent of mothers smoked throughout pregnancy.
  • One in six of the general population has common mental health problems at any one time.
  • The highest rates of alcohol-related deaths between 2001 and 2003 were in the North West and the North East.
  • The average weekly consumption of alcohol increased from 5.3 units in 1990 to 10.4 in 2000, and has remained around that level since.

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