Seven out of 10 people in West Norfolk are either overweight or obese, according to a new report.
The shocking figure, which is one of the highest in East Anglia, was revealed in a survey published by Public Health England (PHE) this week.
It showed that 70.3 per cent of people aged 16 or over in the borough are classed as being either overweight or obese, as defined by body mass index (BMI) measurements.
The measurement assesses a person’s age, height, weight and the amount of physical activity they do.
A reading of between 25 and 30 kilograms per square metre is defined as overweight while a figure of above 30 is classed as obese.
Only the neighbouring district of Fenland, at 72.4 per cent, Milton Keynes, with 72.5 per cent and Thurrock in Essex, at 70.8 per cent, have higher figures than West Norfolk in the whole of the East of England.
The borough’s figure is also the highest in Norfolk, where the responsibility for tackling the obesity problem lies with Norfolk County Council.
And Lucy Macleod, the authority’s interim director of public health, admitted that the figures did not come as a surprise.
The issue has already been designated as one of three priority areas for the department to tackle.
Mrs Macleod said there were a number of factors, including social deprivation and the rurality of the area, which could contribute to the scale of the borough’s problem.
And the cost of eating healthy options has also been cited as a problem by people who are currently engaged in their own battles to lose weight.
Christine Hunt, of Fakenham, who attends a Slimming World group meeting in Gaywood, said: “I find healthy eating a lot more expensive than anything else.
“It’s hard to afford it. I find I’m spending a lot more. They don’t make it easy for people.”
Toni Lakey, of Terrington St Clement, agreed, saying: “They’re not helping you in any way.”
She thinks that a tax on unhealthy foods could be one option to help reduce the problem, along with improved education, could help to provide a solution.
Under the Norfolk’s Living Well banner, the council funds a wide range of services which are designed to help people change their lives and can include exercise regimes and even cookery lessons.
One of the key initiatives is the Health Trainers programme, whose West Norfolk branch is based at the St Augustine’s Centre in North Lynn and offers one to one support to people over a six-month period.
Although the programme does cover issues such as sexual health, alcohol misuse and giving up smoking, Mrs Macleod said that 62 per cent of people who are referred to it want to lose weight.
And a new programme, which has been drawn up in conjunction with the British Heart Foundation, will come into service in the Downham and Hunstanton areas next month, in which two dedicated health trainers will specifically encourage men to use the services that are available.
Mrs Macleod said part of the department’s challenge was to change people’s perceptions.
She added: “There is a group who are either singles parents or who have the children at a weekend and it’s a temptation just to take them out for a Big Mac.”
The scheme is set to have a formal launch in June, to coincide with Fathers’ Day.
Health experts say the increasing rate of obesity is slowing down among adults and children alike, but warn that there is no room for complacency.
It is estimated that treating health problems associated with obesity, which can include heart disease, strokes, diabetes and some cancers. as well as affeting a person’s mental health and self-esteem, costs the NHS up to £5 billion every year.
Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE’s director of health and wellbeing, said: “Local authorities are ideally placed to develop co-ordinated action across their departments, services and partner organisations to tackle overweight and obesity in the local population.
“Many local authorities are already working hard to reduce obesity levels and these new data will help all local areas monitor their progress in tackling these longstanding problems.”
But he added: “There is no silver bullet to reducing obesity. It is a complex issue that requires action at individual, family, local and national levels.
“We can all play our part in this by eating a healthy balanced diet and being more active.”
However, the healthy eating message does seem to be starting to get through, judging by the surge of membership at one weight loss group in West Norfolk.
Mark Godfrey, a consultant who leads a weekly Slimming World meeting held at the Springwood High School in Gaywood, reported that 96 new members had signed up to his class in January alone.
The group now has more than 130 members and Mr Godfrey said he was not surprised by the PHE report.
He said: “You see it when you walk round the streets but you don’t really stop and think about it.
“When you do, you can start to comprehend it.”
Mr Godfrey, who himself lost two stone in just 11 weeks, added: “I think we have to educate people, starting with how easy it is to have a healthy eating plan. We made quite small changes to how we eat.
“The number of people that say they feel better in just a few days is amazing.”