Nearly two thirds of men and over half of women in England are now overweight or obese. The National Audit Office has warned that treating obesity costs the NHS at least one billion pounds a year and the wider costs to the economy in lower productivity and lost output could be a further 2 billion pounds each year. The problem in the UK is increasing faster than in most other European countries. If the rate of increase continues, more than one in four adults will be obese by 2010.On a personal level it is estimated that there were 30,000 premature deaths in 1998 attributable to obesity and on average such people loose nine years of life. Coronary heart disease is particularly associated with obesity.
The NAO report urges the Department of Health to lead the development of across-government strategy, including the Department for Culture, Media andSport, to promote the health benefits of physical activity. It also recommends that the Department for Education and Employment should continue to reinforcethe importance of physical activity and encourage more physical activity in schools.
This report signals a move by the National Audit Office from exclusively auditing the activities of a specific organization to scrutinizing a cross boundary issue – in this case diet and physical activity. The audit embraced the Department of Health, Food Standards Agency, Department for Education and Employment, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, and Department for Culture, Media and Sport.