Obesity is the biggest threat to women’s health and the health of future generations, warns England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.
Her annual report, which focuses on women this year, said tackling obesity should be a national priority to avert a “growing health catastrophe”. She said the food industry needed to do more or it should face a sugar tax. Dame Sally is also calling for better treatment of ovarian cancer and more open discussion on incontinence. England’s top doctor said obesity was so serious it should be a priority for the whole population, but particularly for women because too often it shortened their lives.
In England in 2013, 56.4% of women aged 34-44 and 62% of women aged 45-54 were classified as overweight or obese. Obesity increases the risk of many diseases including breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Dame Sally warned that if the food industry did not clean up its act then new taxes may be the only option. She told the BBC: “I think it is inevitable that manufacturing has to reformulate and resize, that supermarkets and others need to stop cheap promotions on unhealthy food and putting unhealthy food at the check-out, and limit advertising dramatically. “I think we’re at a tipping point. If industry won’t deliver then we’ll have to look at a sugar tax.”
If a woman is obese during pregnancy, research indicates there is an increased chance of miscarriage and premature birth. A woman’s overall health during pregnancy also has an impact on the health of the child in later life, the report said. A pregnant woman’s health affects the conditions inside the womb which in turn can have life-long consequences for the health of the child including the risk of obesity or type 2 diabetes. Dame Sally said she wanted to “bust the myth” that women should eat for two when pregnant, adding a healthy diet with fruit and vegetables and avoiding alcohol was important.
Prof Nick Finer, from University College London’s Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said obesity was now “the most pressing health issue for the nation”. “Estimates of the economic costs of obesity suggest they will bankrupt the NHS.
“Elevating the problem of obesity to a national risk could help to address the current ‘laissez faire’ attitude to this huge, angry, growing health catastrophe,” he said. In her report, Dame Sally highlighted the need for early diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, which are more common in women than men.
She recommended that everyone with an eating disorder should have access to a new and enhanced form of psychological therapy, called CBT-E, which is specifically designed to treat eating disorders. This should be available to all age groups across the country, she said.
Lorna Garner, from Beat, the charity that supports people with eating disorders, said the recommendation would have “a dramatic and positive impact on a very large proportion of the individuals diagnosed with eating disorders”.