Nearly three quarters of Blackpool residents aged over 16 and more than a third of 11-year-olds in the town are overweight or obese, according to shocking new figures.
Now health chiefs are to take a stronger approach to tackling the crisis after warning it “contributes significantly to poor health.”
Among the proposals are tougher controls around the opening of fast food takeaways near schools and banning junk food adverts.
A report by Blackpool’s director of public health Dr Arif Rajpura says obesity rates here are increasing faster than the national average with approximately 83,500 adults being overweight, which is 72 per cent of the town’s population.
Meanwhile just over a quarter of reception-age schoolchildren in Blackpool having excess weight compared to just over a fifth nationally.
Among the issues he blames the situation on is the consumption of too many fizzy drinks.
Not only does obesity result in an increase in chronic disease leading to distress and sickness, there are significant impacts for the broader economy of Blackpool through disability, unemployment and burden on the social care systemDr Rajpura
Dr Rajpura warns: “Obesity is a serious public health problem for the town and contributes significantly to poor health.
“Not only does obesity result in an increase in chronic disease leading to distress and sickness, there are significant impacts for the broader economy of Blackpool through disability, unemployment and burden on the social care system.
“The picture for the children in Blackpool is a major concern.
“The data from the National Child Measurement Programme for 2014/15 shows 26 per cent of reception children (approximately 2,600) have excess weight (overweight or obese) compared to 23 per cent for the North West and 22 per cent nationally.”
He adds: “High levels of sugar consumption, particularly in the form of sugary drinks, are increasingly being recognised as a key driver of obesity levels.”
Dr Rajpura says preventing childhood obesity is key to “reversing obesity prevalence” and “to achieve this we need to change our approach as a society to food, drink and physical activity.”
In a bid to kickstart the process, the council has officially signed up to a ‘Local Authority Declaration on Healthy Weight’.
The initiative is the result of a joint approach by public health directors across the North West to tackle obesity which is calling for a tax on sugary drinks, stronger national controls on junk food marketing and improved planning measures.
Priorities in Blackpool will include reducing sugary drinks available in vending machines, providing healthier options in deprived areas, for example by considering financial support for new greengrocers or co-operatives, and helping schools improve the quality of packed lunches.
Another measure is to consider having planning controls “for hot food takeaways, specifically in areas around school, parks and where access to healthier alternatives are limited”.
Coun Amy Cross, Blackpool’s cabinet member for reducing health inequalities, said: “Obesity is a problem for all sections of society and this is no different in Blackpool.
“The connection between obesity and life-threatening illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer is now apparent according to research and we are committed to working hard to make Blackpool residents healthier.
“Our work to promote healthy eating is already taking place, with our Gulp campaign encouraging school pupils to swap sugary pop drinks for healthier alternatives. At the same time, giving primary school children a healthy breakfast every morning means we know that they are being given the right foods regularly.
“Our commitment to reducing obesity has been well stated, however more can still be done. As well as our own work, we will continue to lobby the Government to do more to reduce the lure of food and drinks laden with sugar, and to crack down on some of the inappropriate marketing of unhealthy foods that we see everywhere we turn.”