The papers, written by academics on three continents, highlight the need for policymakers to act to improve people’s health and awareness of the causes of obesity.
“Governments have abdicated responsibility,” says Boyd Swinburn of Melbourne Deakin University’s centre for obesity prevention. “Like a frog sitting in a pan of hot water, we haven’t realised what’s been happening until it’s too late.”
Currently 26 per cent of British men and women are obese, but one paper by researchers from Columbia University suggests that those figures could rise to 48 and 43 per cent respectively if the UK government continues with business as usual.
Another paper recommends imposing a tax on unhealthy food and drink, ensuring children exercise more and preventing them from watching TV adverts.
Its author, Steven Gortmaker of Harvard University’s school of public health, compares obesity with smoking in terms of lack of leadership on the issue and suggests that governments are loath to pick a fight with such a powerful industry.
“I think [they] get it,” he says, “but don’t know what to do about it and don’t think it’s their responsibility. But it is their responsibility.”
It is hoped that a UN summit held in New York next month to discuss the prevention of non-communicable diseases – such as cancer and diabetes – could play a large part in encouraging governments to act.