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Tory peer warns that obesity epidemic could destroy NHS while Cameron refuses to rule out "fat tax"

By Tim Montgomerie
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Mervyn King said yesterday we are facing the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. Apparently we also have the worst medical epidemic for even longer. In the Lords yesterday (the Upper House has been manfully meeting during the Tory conference) Lord McColl warned that Britain's obesity crisis would destroy the NHS if ministers didn't change course and recognise that the solution wasn't exercise but, quite simply, people needed to eat less. The full speech of the man who was Professor of Surgery at Guy's Hospital is here but I've pasted key highlights below:

Obesity starts early: "Most obesity starts before children go to school; Professor Terence Wilkin and Linda Voss, of the Peninsula Medical School, have done a lot of work on the subject and found that 90 per cent of excess weight in girls and over 70 per cent in boys is gained before the child ever gets to school."

The scale of the problem: "Obesity is a disease which wrecks the human body; it causes an enormous amount of distress, disease and suffering. In the United Kingdom there are over 2 million people suffering from diabetes as a result of obesity and a further 750,000 have diabetes but do not yet know it. So-called adult diabetes has reached epidemic proportions and now affects teenagers and young children....What else does obesity cause? The arteries become silted up with fatty material, called atheroma. As noble Lords know from their Greek studies, atheroma means porridge. It may be Greek porridge, but it is not Scottish porridge. It silts up the arteries and can cause heart attacks, strokes and blockage of the arteries of the leg, leading to amputation. Blindness is another result, as are high blood pressure and cancer. The excessive weight wears out the joints, so people need their knees and hips replaced. Obesity leads to cirrhosis. We always think of cirrhosis in terms of alcohol poisoning, but now the commonest cause seems to be obesity, so we have a big problem."

Exercise is NOT the solution to obesity: "This obsession that Ministers have had for some years that it is a balance between what you eat and how much you exercise is the crucial mistake. The real balance is between calorie intake and the total expenditure of energy in the body. We have to run miles to get rid of a pound of fat and, bearing in mind that as little as 25 per cent of the calories we eat go on exercise, where do the other 75 per cent go? They go on the numerous activities of the body over which we have no control. The heart beats several million times in a lifetime, the kidneys filter a vast quantity of blood-about 360 pints over 24 hours-and there are myriad other activities in other organs, such as the liver, pancreas, bones and the alimentary tract... Exercise is of course very important-it is ideal for the functioning of the heart and control of cholesterol, and it gives one a sense of proportion and well-being-but it does not deal with the obesity epidemic."

Obesity is the most dangerous health problem for 100 years and it can only be cured by eating less: "The message is absolutely clear: this is the most serious epidemic to affect this country for 100 years; it is killing millions and costing billions; it will wreck the NHS for sure. The answer is simply to eat less. When obese people reduce their weight, then they can begin to exercise to keep fit-but not to solve the obesity epidemic. I have been to see the director of NICE to reason with him, and he has now admitted that its advice is wrong. I have also been to see the Chief Medical Officer, and she has admitted that the advice is wrong. So the Minister is out on a limb. When will he listen to the Chief Medical Officer and NICE?"

Lord McColl's remarks came after the Prime Minister declined to rule out a "fat tax" on foodstuffs contain large amounts of saturated fat. Here's the quote from the Daily Mail:

"Asked about the Danish fat tax on Channel 5 News, Mr Cameron said: ‘I think it is something that we should look at. The problem in the past when people have looked at using the tax system in this way is the impact it can have on people on low incomes. 'But frankly, do we have a problem with the growing level of obesity? Yes. 'Do we have a kind of warning in terms of, look at America how bad things have got there, about what happens if we don’t do anything? Yes, that should be a wake-up call.' He added: 'I am worried about the costs to the Health Service, the fact that some people are going to have shorter lives than their parents.' Mr Cameron said obesity was now on the verge of overtaking smoking and drinking as the 'biggest health challenge' facing Britain. He said: 'Don’t rule anything out, but let’s look at the evidence and let’s look at the impact on families.'"


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