Ministers are being urged to take the same stance on junk food as they do on smoking after new figures revealed that obesity is costing the UK £100 billion per year.
The number of overweight Brits has significantly increased since the mid-90s, rising from 50% to 65%, the study has reported.
A surge in obesity cases has been put down to more people eating processed, calorie-laden foods and having inactive lifestyles.
Adults living with obesity are a huge financial strain on the NHS, previous research studies have demonstrated.
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The analysis, which was funded by the Tony Blair Institute (TBI), has found that those living with obesity are also at risk of not being able to work due to illness, and therefore having to apply for benefits.
Henry Dimbleby, founder of fast-food chain Leon, said: “Just look at smoking: it’s become ever more socially unacceptable to smoke. If we have social and political will, we can do the same for obesity.
“Public spaces awash in junk food will one day be seen as just as outdated as the smoke-filled rooms of the past.”
Experts believe that in the next 20 years, Brits living with obesity could cost the country £104 billion per year.
Hermione Dace, TBI’s policy adviser, said: “Our new analysis underlines why Britain needs a fair deal between the food industry, the government and the public to prevent and treat obesity.
“We need a fresh approach to give people real options, rebalancing the food system in favour of healthy, cost-effective choices and disincentivising profiteering from ultra-processed and junk food. The health of the nation and our economic growth and prosperity depend on it.”
With Rishi Sunak recently announcing his radical smoking ban, campaigners are now urging the Prime Minister to do the same with junk food – a leading cause of obesity.
Recent figures have revealed that smoking costs the country £17 billion per year; however, it is difficult to compare this figure with that of obesity.
According to the study, roughly 350,000 middle-aged adults are not working because they are living with overweight.
New weight loss drugs such as Wegovy could become an essential tool in the battle against obesity, experts have said.
However, the Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) believes it is the wrong approach.
Katharine Jenner, Director of the OHA, said: “Our concern is that weight loss drugs are currently being presented as a viable solution to obesity for the whole population.
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“They complement, but do not compete with, population measures like protecting kids from junk food advertising and encouraging companies to put healthier products on our supermarket shelves.”
She added: “If we only attempt to treat people without changing the environment that made them ill in the first place, we will simply be spending huge amounts of extra money in the NHS for little to no long-term benefit.”
Sonia Pombo, Group Campaign Lead for Action on Salt, said: “For years, the government has had every opportunity to tackle the UK’s obesity crisis which is now out of control and it’s scandalous that the cost to Britain has now increased by a whopping £40 billion.
“Now, more than ever, the UK’s population needs equitable access to healthy, affordable food and this can only be achieved with policies designed to rebalance our food system.”
She added: “These must include key measures, which are all ready to be implemented, such as mandatory targets for calorie, sugar and salt reduction, well enforced marketing and promotions restrictions and clearer, mandatory food labelling – driven by strong leadership.”