Britain could see obesity levels soar up to 40 per cent or higher within a single generation unless urgent action is taken, the International Obesity TaskForce, a UK-based think-tank, warned this week.
Childhood obesity, already three times higher than it was just over 10 years ago, is also set to rise, according to preliminary estimates carried out by the group.
Speaking at a meeting of NGOs called to demand bold new strategies to combat the epidemic, Professor Philip James, president of the Coronary Prevention Group and chairman of the IOTF, said the evidence of serious health risks in the escalating numbers of British children is overwhelming.
"The evidence is so compelling that we must now act rapidly and decisively to deal with this epidemic. The first step must be to start protecting the health and well being of our young children, who are being damaged because we are not yet willing to provide them with a safe environment where they can experience and learn the value of good food and play. Instead their wellbeing is systematically undermined by the intense marketing and sales of foods and drinks high in fat, sugar and salt," he said.
He said the close association of confectionary and soft drink firms with the promotion of physical activity and sport was sending out the wrong signals to a young generation. This is leading children to overconsume products that contribute to their increasing weight.
"We need even stronger action to deal with marketing to children and not fudged options such as those just suggested by the Food Standards Agency. Politicians need to understand that regulation is required and that it is a popular move. It is what the majority of parents in every country we work with places as one of their top priorities," he added.
The UK's Food Standards Agency this week published a discussion paper on possible ways to promote healthier foods to children, following a thorny debate in recent weeks between industry and lobby groups accusing food producers and retailers of contributing to the rising tide of obesity among British children.
The FSA's proposed actions include research, building on existing guidance, best practice, and new regulation, but could also cover more controversial issues such as sponsorship, advertising, labelling, endorsements, in-store activity and loyalty schemes.
The board of the Agency will decide next year, following public debate, which policy options it will recommend to the government.
The IOTF chairman is however highly skeptical of such moves."The issue...is whether governments, local authorities and schools are working for the people or for commercial interests."