New research to help combat the growing problem of obesity is to be funded through the creation of the Applied Research Forum for Farming and Food, it was announced last week.

The new forum bring together levy-funded farming and horticultural bodies, the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council, the Food Standards Agency, government departments and farmers’ unions.

The aim of the new joined-up approach will be to pinpoint key areas of collaborative research, with consumer health and the environment primary targets.

“Initially we want to play a positive role in contributing to improved human nutrition and better waste management. Both these areas are vital to the long-term future of the industry and consumers,” said Peter Barr, chairman of ARF and the Meat and Livestock Commission.

The British Nutrition Foundation, an independent educational charity, will be brought in to advise on potential research areas.

“Obesity in both sexes is becoming a major problem and if we don’t do something to halt its progress, it is in danger of becoming an epidemic with huge consequences,” said a BNF spokeswoman.

In addition to health professionals, supermarkets and fast food groups have been reacting positively to the danger of obesity - now rated as only second to smoking as a prime cause of premature death.

The new agri-food initiative is said to signal a proactive approach to the problem from the farm gate.