Henry Dimbleby

Former government health tsar Henry Dimbleby will today warn Britain will be left a “sick and impoverished nation” unless it steps up to tackle the obesity crisis.

In a keynote speech this afternoon at a Royal Society conference, Dimbleby, who quit his government role in March in protest at ministers’ lack of action, will say the cost of failing to tackle the crisis is much higher than previously believed.

Dimbleby, whose National Food Strategy called for measures including a raft of taxes of HFSS foods, will cite new figures from the Tony Blair Institute claiming obesity is already costing the country £10bn a year and will soar to £100bn in the next 15 years.

“The biggest cause of avoidable ill health is diet,” Dimbleby is expected to say today. “Notwithstanding the human misery, the cost of diet-related ill health is much greater than we ever imagined. Ninety-eight billion pounds and that doesn’t include all the conditions caused by diet dementia and Alzheimer’s. That is about the same amount we spend on groceries. It is a disaster. It’s insane.”

Dimbleby will back the insitute’s call for a new approach concentrating on reforming the commercial food environment.

He is expected to add: “Whichever party is in power in 10 years’ time will be crippled by this double threat if we don’t act.

“The NHS will suck all the money out of the other public services because we can’t let it fail. And at the same time, economic growth and tax revenue will stagnate.

“We will end up both a sick and impoverished nation. It doesn’t matter how efficient technology makes the NHS; it will not be able to cope with the number of sick bodies thrown at it.

“If politicians summon up the courage to act, as I hope they will, we might look back at this period and say – wow, those were the days when we ate that stuff. That was weird.”