Overweight to be forced to exercise for benefits?

If you're obese and fail to exercise, your benefits could be seriously trimmed. Westminster City Council has revealed proposals to force overweight benefit claimants to exercise. Failure to turn up to for exercise at your local leisure centre - usage will be measured by smart cards - and you could see your benefit payments slashed.

But is this a good idea to tackle the UK's chronic obesity crisis?

Fat attack

"Where an exercise package is prescribed to a resident, housing and council tax benefit payments could be varied to reward or incentivise residents," the Telegraph quotes a new report published by Tory-run Westminster City Council and think-tank the Local Government Information Unit.

AOL Money spoke to two public health organisations about the proposals, but both were nervous about speaking publicly. "We didn't feel it was appropriate to judge," said one organisation.

However Professor John Wass, academic vice–president of the Royal College of Physicians, told the FT that for the obese to lose weight, "they must want to lose weight, and I have concerns about forcing the public to exercise."


And British Medical Association GP committee chairman Dr Buckman, a GP in north London, told the BBC that the proposals were "some of the silliest things I've heard in a long time".

Attempts to force the obese towards their nearest leisure centre could be problematic: how do you make sure they exercise when they arrive, as opposed to sitting in the cafe?

Obesity is a problem in the UK. According to recent NHS 2012 stats, more than a quarter of adults (26% of both men and women aged 16 or over) were obese in 2010. The NHS judges obesity by dividing a person's weight (in kilograms) by their height (in metres).

£5.1bn a year cost to NHS

If you've a body mass index of 30kg/m2 then you're not just overweight but obese. Part of the worry is not just lack of exercise, but focusing on the wrong sort of food. The NHS reckons that in 2010 alone (most recent figures) there was a "significant' rise in household cash spent on eggs, butter, beverages, sugar and preserves and not nearly enough on fresh fruit and veg.

Household purchases of fruit fell by 0.9% in 2010 and are now, in the UK, 11.6% lower than 2007. Vegetable purchases are -2.9% lower than in 2007 says the NHS.

The Department of Health puts the NHS costs of obesity at around £5.1bn per year - a sum set to get even bigger in the future.

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