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Overweight is becoming normal, warns CMO

CMO also calls for study into link between dementia and sensory impairment

Adrian O'Dowd

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Urgent action is needed to tackle the growing “normalisation” of being overweight or obese, warns England’s Chief Medical Officer in a report published today.

Professor Dame Sally Davies in her Annual Report of the Chief Medical Officer: Surveillance Volume said being overweight was becoming normal as the majority of the adult population was now overweight or obese.

Almost two thirds of adults and one third of children under 18 are estimated to be overweight or obese, says the report, and in one study mentioned, 77% of parents of overweight children did not recognise that their child was overweight.

Dame Sally said the data was especially worrying because these issues led to an increased risk of diabetes, strokes and other health problems.

“I have long been concerned that being underweight is often portrayed as the ideal weight, particularly in the fashion industry,” said Dame Sally. “Yet I am increasingly concerned that society may be normalising being overweight.

“Larger mannequins are being introduced into clothes shops, ‘size inflation’ means that clothes with the same size label have become larger in recent decades, and news stories about weight often feature pictures of severely obese people, which are unrepresentative of the majority of overweight people.”

The CMO’s surveillance report is the first of two volumes of her annual report and is a compendium of data covering a number of public health areas.

Another issue highlighted in the report is a possible link between deafness/blindness and dementia.

It says the GP patient survey shows a greater prevalence of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, in people with severe vision loss or severe hearing impairment.

“The reasons for this association are unclear,” said Dame Sally. “The association between sensory impairment and dementia provides an example of one area in which improved data quantity and quality could be used to improve our understanding of the causes and treatment of a disease which extends beyond the population of people with sensory impairment.”

The report also reaffirms the CMO’s previous views on added sugar in drinks and alcohol minimum pricing.

The CMO called on manufacturers to reformulate and resize products to use less sugar where possible and added: “If voluntary efforts fail to deliver then we, as a society, may need to consider the public health benefits that could be derived from regulation such as a ‘sugar tax’.”

The second volume of the annual report will be published in the summer.

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