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A stark warning over the health risks posed by Britain's 'couch ...
A stark warning over the health risks posed by Britain's 'couch

potato culture' was issued today by the government's top medical


The warning came as the chief medical officer Liam Donaldson,

published a new landmark report on physical activity and health - 'At

Least Five A Week.'

Smoking and unhealthy diet have long been established as major causal

factors for chronic disease but the report says that inactive living

is equally important.

Sir Liam said: 'People need to stay active over the whole of their

lives if they are to stave off the threat of obesity and killer

diseases like cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cancer.

'We are moving less than our parents and grandparents. This is a

major risk factor for the nation's health. We need to combat the

'couch potato' culture, and this means building moderate everyday

physical activity into our lives.

'It is not about spending hours and hours in the gym, but it is about

finding ways to build activities into our daily lives.'

For general health benefit, adults should achieve a total of at least

30 minutes a day of at least moderate intensity physical activity, on

5 or more days of the week.

This report will be considered by ministers when they draw up the

forthcoming White Paper on Public Health, following the public

consultation exercise, currently under way.

John Reid, Health Secretary, said: 'This is a excellent report which

clearly sets out the importance of a more active lifestyle. The

challenge for all of us; government, business, the voluntary sector

and individuals themselves, is how we achieve that.'

Sir Liam said the recommended levels of activity could be achieved

either by doing all the daily activity in one session or through

shorter bouts of activity of 10 minutes or more.

For example, an adult may take a daily brisk walk or cycle to work

and children could be encouraged to walk to school, in addition to

two or three weekly leisure activities such as swimming, football, or

gym. All activity can help prevent obesity, so people should make

the most of all small opportunities to be active such as using stairs

and doing the gardening.

The report highlights that:

* up to two-thirds of men and three quarters of women don't take

enough physical activity for a health benefit;

* a quarter of adults and six per cent of 2-20 year olds are obese;


* the cost of inactivity - direct costs of treatment and indirect

costs caused through ickness absence - is an estimated£8.2bn


Sir Liam added: 'Adults who are physically active reduce their risk

of developing major chronic diseases, such as heart disease and

stroke and type 2 diabetes, by up to half (50%), and the risk of

early death by about 20-30%. This report must be the wake-up call

that changes attitudes to active lifestyles in every household.'

The report analyses evidence from around the world of the impact that

an inactive lifestyle has on public health.

It concludes that obesity is now reaching epidemic proportions and

show little signs of slowing. If current obesity rates continue, a

third of all adults will be obese by 2010 - equal to US levels.


1. The Chief Medical Officer's report, At Least Five A Week,:

Evidence on the impact of physical activity and its relationship to

health is available here.

2. The report's recommendations for physical activity to maintain a

healthy lifestyle are:

* Children and young people should achieve a total of at least 60

minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity each day. At

least twice a week this should include activities to improve bone

health (activities that produce high physical stresses on the bones),

muscle strength and flexibility.

* for general health benefit , adults should achieve a total of at

least 30 minutes a day of at least moderate intensity physical

activity on 5 or more days of the week.

It is likely that for many people, 45-60 minutes of moderate

intensity physical activity a day is necessary to prevent obesity.

The report also makes more specific recommendations for adults for

the beneficial effects for individual diseases and conditions.

Moderate physical activity will usually mean:

* an increase in breathing rate;

* an increase in heart rate, to the level when the pulse can be felt;

* a feeling of increased warmth, possibly accompanied by sweating on

hot or humid days.

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