Nearly half of young adults in Britain are overweight or obese, according to shocking new figures released by the NHS.
Leading doctors warned that they risked dying at a younger age than their parents unless their diets and lifestyles improved.
Nearly three million 16- to 24-year-olds weigh too much – a million more than two decades ago, the statistics reveal.
Experts say the youngsters are increasing their chances of developing ‘a cacophony’ of devastating diseases early in life, ranging from diabetes to cancer. And they say the astonishing rise in young adult obesity could bankrupt the NHS.
Unhealthy modern diets, addiction to mobile phones and social media, a lack of exercise and successive governments’ failure to drive down childhood obesity are all to blame for the ballooning numbers of overweight young people, they believe.
Meanwhile, retailers say the trend is being reflected on the high street, with a booming demand for plus-size fashion. According to NHS Digital, which manages statistics on the nation’s health:
– Thirty-nine per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds are overweight or obese, up from 27 per cent in 1993;
– An astonishing one in six young men have a waist size of 40in or more – four times more than in the early 1990s;
– The picture is just as worrying for women: almost a quarter have a ‘very high’ waist size of 34½in or more, up from a tenth in 1993.
The figures come from the annual Health Survey for England, which has been running since 1991 and involves interviewing and measuring 8,000 adults and 2,000 children every year.
They indicate that the number of overweight or obese 16- to 24-year-olds has grown from about 1.8?million in 1993 to 2.9?million in 2015, the latest year for which figures are available.
Dr Mike Osborn, of the Royal College of Pathologists, said: ‘Being overweight or obese can cause a whole cacophony of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, fatty liver disease and cancer.’
If a person became obese at 70, that was one thing, he said. But if they became obese at 14 – and stayed that way – that was far worse due to the prolonged impact over their lifetime.
‘Obesity increases your risk factors for serious illnesses,’ said Dr Osborn, who conducted a post-mortem examination on a 17st woman last year that was controversially filmed for a BBC documentary.
‘So if an individual’s parents were not obese but the child is, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the child is likely to have a reduced lifespan.’
Olympic gold medal-winning rower James Cracknell, 45, who fought his own teenage battle of the bulge, said young people needed a ‘focus’ to keep them busy – and draw them away from the ‘instant gratification’ of high-calorie food and mobile phones.
He said: ‘At 12 or 13, I wouldn’t take my T-shirt off. It was the only time I can remember when my waist was bigger than my shoulders. I wasn’t really into anything and was just drifting.’
The next year he took up rowing – with dramatic consequences. Besides the exercise, he had far less spare time sitting at home grazing. ‘I think a lot of overeating is for comfort and instant gratification,’ he said.
Professor Lord Ian McColl, a former surgeon, said: ‘Overweight and obese young people may well end up living shorter lives than their parents, most of whom were slim in their youth.
‘Already, some obese children under ten have diabetes.
‘This crisis is bankrupting the NHS. It’s killing millions and costing billions but the cure is free – eat less!’
The explosive rise in ‘young adult obesity’ is now being felt in shops, according to market research firm Global Data, which predicts £1 in every £5 spent on women’s clothing this year will be on ‘plus size’ fashion.
A Department of Health spokesman said the Government was taking a ‘comprehensive approach’ to tackling obesity in both children and adults.
© Mail On Sunday