The number of obese people in England has almost doubled in 20 years, new figures suggest.
A report from Diabetes UK found the figure has jumped from 6.9 million people in 1997 to around 13 million in 2017 – the most recent data available.
Obesity is a major driver of Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to a range of serious health complications including heart and blood vessel disease, nerve and kidney damage, slow healing of wounds and sight loss.
It is thought that 80 to 85% of a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes is down to being overweight.
Diabetes UK says more than half of all cases of Type 2 diabetes could be prevented or delayed if the nation’s obesity problems were tackled.
The data for the report was taken from the Health Survey for England, which found that in 2017, the majority of adults (64%) in England were overweight or obese.
Some 40% of men where overweight while a further 27% were obese.
Meanwhile, 31% of women were overweight and a further 30% were obese.
The 2017 figures also showed that 30% of children aged two to 15 in England were overweight or obese, including 17% who were obese.
Diabetes UK says it is launching a new five-year strategy to tackle this “urgent public health crisis”.
At present, an estimated 2.85 million people are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in England, and a further 850,000 have the condition but are unaware of it.
Charity chief executive Chris Askew said: “Through our new strategy, we’re re-stating our commitment to tackling the diabetes crisis on all fronts.
“We’re facing an urgent public health problem. Tackling this requires ambitious and sustained action from national governments, across sectors and departments. That’s because, right now, it’s hard to be healthy.
“We will keep challenging government and industry to put in place regulations and practices that make healthy choices easier for everyone, including making food and drinks healthier, and addressing the marketing and promotion of unhealthy foods.
“Without action, more people will develop Type 2 and gestational diabetes – but with more awareness, government action and the right investment and support, we can change this.”
The strategy has five key aims to be achieved by 2025, including for more people to be in remission from Type 2 diabetes and fewer people developing Type 2 and diabetes in pregnancy.
It is known that people with Type 2 are 2.5 times more likely to suffer a heart attack, and four times more likely to experience kidney failure than those without diabetes.
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “Successive governments since the turn of the century have pledged to cut obesity to 2000 levels and all have failed catastrophically.
“In October, Whitehall pledged to cut childhood obesity in half by 2030 but there is scant chance that that will be achieved either.
“Naturally, Diabetes UK should be applauded for its strategy, but experience tells us that it’s a pipe dream unless there is a sea change of attitude in Downing Street.”
NHS national medical director Stephen Powis said: “Obesity is a dangerous public health threat that is already leading to a string of serious illnesses, including 13 types of cancer, heart attacks and strokes, with these figures bringing another stark reminder of the scale of the obesity crisis.
“Over 400,000 people have been offered a place on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme to prevent those at risk from developing Type 2 diabetes in the first place.”