Government to beat obesity epidemic by PAYING fat people to lose weight


Last updated at 20:37 24 January 2008

Fat people could be paid to lose weight under Government plans to tackle obesity.

Ministers said the Health Service and employers could give vouchers to the overweight to spend on healthy food in supermarkets.

They also suggested that those who manage to lose weight could be given cash prizes.

Britain is in the grip of an obesity epidemic. A quarter of all adults and one in five children are obese.

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fat people

Experts say that by 2050 at least 60 per cent of the population will be obese.

But the Government strategy risks provoking accusations of a nanny state culture because it also urges schools to appoint "lunchbox police" to check that pupils' food is healthy.

Other ideas in the 40-page report are for compulsory cookery lessons for pupils and at least five hours of school sport a week - up from the present average of two hours.

There will be a healthy food labelling scheme and ministers want councils to use planning laws to limit the number of fast food outlets near schools and parks.

But one of the most controversial parts of the report is a plan to give the overweight financial incentives to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Woman looking at food labels

It said: "We will look at using financial incentives, such as payments, vouchers and other rewards, to encourage individuals to lose weight and sustain that weight loss, to eat more healthily, or to be consistently more physically active."

No firm ideas have been put forward but sources say it could include vouchers to buy healthy foods, or prizes for those who manage to cut their weight.

Ministers are looking at a range of U.S. incentive schemes, such as one run by a private health insurer which allows clients to choose from a range of prizes if they manage to keep the weight off.

And the report commends two weight loss competitions run by British employers.

One firm had a "Biggest Loser" scheme, an eight-week individual weight loss competition.

The man and woman who achieved the greater percentage weight loss received £130 in shopping vouchers, while the man and woman who lost the most weight circumference got £30 each.

Participants lost up to 6.4 per cent of their weight.

In another scheme, Cold Turkey, workers were grouped into teams.

The team with the greatest percentage weight loss every week received a fruit basket and the team with the greatest weight loss at the end of 11 weeks got a trophy.


The report says: "We need to rework the incentives for individuals and public bodies to encourage actions now, thereby avoiding much larger costs in later years.

"In the U.S., for example, there is some evidence that small financial payments, as part of broader programmes to tackle obesity, have proven particularly effective in incentivising individuals to both achieve and maintain weight loss.

"However, we are a long way from understanding what kinds of incentives work, which groups might be most affected by them, and how cost-effective these incentives are."

It also raises the possibility of giving employers grants to make healthy options available in staff canteens, provide fitness facilities and invest in facilities for cyclists.

The report said: "Employers will reap the benefits in improved productivity, high staff morale and retention, and reduce sickness absence costs."

Health Secretary Alan Johnson and Schools Secretary Ed Balls yesterday launched the strategy, which promises an extra £372million to help people live healthier lives.

Mr Johnson said: "Tackling obesity is the most significant public and personal health challenge facing our society.

"The core of the problem is simple - we eat too much and we do too little exercise.

"The solution is more complex. From the nature of the food we eat, to the built environment, through to the way our children lead their lives, it is harder to avoid obesity in the modern environment.

"It is not the Government's role to hector or lecture people, but we do have a duty to support them in leading healthier lifestyles.

"This will only succeed if the problem is recognised, owned and addressed in every part of society."

Some £30million of the extra funds will be spent on the creation of "healthy towns" to promote physical activity, and £75million will go on an advertising campaign to promote a healthy diet and exercise.

The Government also reiterated its target of cutting the proportion of overweight and obese youngsters to 2000 levels by 2020.

Conservative health spokesman Andrew Lansley said Mr Johnson was "dithering" over food labelling.

He said: "Obesity takes a huge toll on people's lives and is set to cost the NHS tens of billions of pounds a year by 2050. Is this really the best the Government can come up with?

"The Government had no obesity strategy whatsoever until 2004; now half the 2004 strategy has been repackaged because it simply hasn't been delivered."

Dr Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, welcomed the report. But he added: "We are disappointed that the issue of food labelling still has not been resolved.

"And we would have liked to have seen legislation to end the advertising of energy dense food to children."