Matt Weaver and agencies
Tuesday October 10, 2006
Almost a quarter of British adults are obese.
Tony Blair today urged people to take more responsibility for their fitness and diet, as a new study revealed a continuing north-south divide in the nation's health.
But the prime minister accepted that economic deprivation was a key factor in poor public health.
Asked about health inequalities on *** Breakfast, Mr Blair said: "I have to say it is to do with poverty. It's to do with diet, it's to do with exercise. It starts at school and it starts with what parents feed their children."
He said it was the government's job to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. But he added: "The government cannot do it all."
He said: "The difficulty for us, is trying to balance not becoming a nanny state and telling everyone what to do, with trying to educate people that there are real choices which you make, that make a difference to your health and fitness and that in turn makes a difference to the whole of the country.
"We can't really afford a decent healthcare system, unless healthcare is not just about treating you when you are sick but also about looking after your fitness, your healthcare, and that requires people to take some personal responsibility for what they do."
He was speaking as the new Health Profile of England was unveiled, showing that northern areas had higher obesity rates, more smoking-related deaths and lower life expectancies. Men and women in northern counties die on average two years and one year earlier respectively than their southern equivalents.
The report also showed that 23% of adults were obese, giving the UK the highest rate in Europe. Seven countries, including Switzerland, Norway, Italy and France had obesity rates below 10%.
Women living in the West Midlands were the most likely to be obese, while those living in London, the south-east and south-west were the least likely. For men, the greatest prevalence of obesity was in the Yorkshire and Humber region, while the least was in London.
The government reports that 1.2 million people have stopped smoking since 1998. But Yorkshire and Humber, the north-west and north-east regions have higher than average death rates from smoking-related diseases.
The document was released after Department of Health figures in August showed that, without dramatic action, millions more adults and children would be obese by 2010.
A third of adults and a fifth of all children would be obese, leading to greater suffering from cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The government looks set to miss its target to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity among under-11s by 2010.
The new document is designed to provide the most comprehensive picture yet of the state of the public's health. The information is aimed at helping regions to measure their progress in tackling health inequalities and to seek help from those performing better.
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