The most deprived areas of England are seeing the numbers of people with obesity increase at twice the rate of wealthier areas, experts have said.

A rise in the cost of living will only exacerbate the problem as the cost of healthy food has shot up, health chiefs warn.

The think-tank King’s Fund say the gap in obesity rates between deprived areas and more affluent communities is increasing, with calls for the government to do more to prevent obesity – a major cause of a number of serious diseases.

The key findings from the King’s Fund report are:

  • 8% of people in England’s poorest areas were obese last year, a rise from 31.9% four years ago
  • 2% of people in the richest areas were classed as obese, compared to 17.9% in 2018/19.

Now its authors have called for more action, after community weight loss programmes were hit by the withdrawal of £30m of government funding.

The report’s author, Jonathan Holmes, told The Times: “The war on obesity is a war the government are losing. On many fronts it’s a war they have surrendered.

“Eating meals which meet the government’s healthy eating guidelines is unaffordable to most households in more deprived areas. Processed less healthy foods are cheaper and more accessible in deprived areas.

“With the cost of groceries going up, healthier foods will become less affordable.”

Rising inflation has seen the cost of fruit, vegetables and healthy meats increase and there are predictions that the yearly shopping bill could go up by £454 this year.

Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson responded to the King’s Fund report, saying: “We will be bringing into force rules on the placement of less healthy products in stores and online in October and have introduced new calorie labelling in large restaurants, cafés and takeaways.

“We know being overweight or obese is the number one cause of ill health and disability in England, and the second biggest cause of cancer, which is why we will continue to support people achieve and maintain a healthier weight.”

Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest health problems facing the UK, with around 64% of adults classed as overweight. It is linked to serious conditions including heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and the treatment of conditions related to obesity is thought to cost the NHS around £6billion every year.

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