England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies warns that obesity is the biggest threat to women’s health and the health of future generations.
In her annual report, she said tackling obesity should be a national priority and women should be empowered to lead healthier and more active lives.
The report makes 17 recommendations for the improvement of women’s health.
Dame Sally is calling for better treatment of ovarian cancer and more open discussion on incontinence.
Health experts have welcomed the focus of the report, entitled Health of the 51%: Women.
Dame Sally said obesity was so serious it should be a priority for the whole population, but particularly for women because too often it shortened their lives.
In 2013, 64% of women aged 34-44 and 71% of women aged 45-54 in England were classified as overweight or obese.
Dame Sally highlighted the fact that women had to look after their physical and mental health during pregnancy for the sake of their children and grandchildren. Women should be given advice on how to lead healthy, active lives when planning for a pregnancy. A research indicates that if a woman is obese during pregnancy, there is an increased chance of miscarriage and premature birth. It affects the health of the child as well.
Dame Sally said she wanted to “bust the myth” that women should eat for two when pregnant, adding a healthy diet with fruit and vegetables and avoiding alcohol was important.
Prof Nick Finer, from University College London’s Institute of Cardiovascular Science, said obesity was now “the most pressing health issue for the nation. Estimates of the economic costs of obesity suggest they will bankrupt the NHS. Elevating the problem of obesity to a national risk could help to address the current ‘laissez faire’ attitude to this huge, angry, growing health catastrophe,” .
In her report, Dame Sally highlighted the need for early diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating, which are more common in women than men.
She recommended that everyone with an eating disorder should have access to a new and enhanced form of psychological therapy, available online, called CBT-E, which is specifically designed to treat any eating disorder.
This should be available to all age groups across the country, she said.
Lorna Garner, from Beat, the charity that supports people with eating disorders, said the recommendation would have “a dramatic and positive impact on a very large proportion of the individuals diagnosed with eating disorders”.
Ovarian cancer survival is lower in England than in other comparable countries. The report also called for better treatment for ovarian cancer, which kills more women in England than any other gynaecological cancer.
With survival from the cancer among the lowest among developed nations, Dame Sally recommends longer operating times to increase the likelihood that all the cancer is removed during surgery.