Blubbery Britons must cut 5 billion calories, health officials say


(CBS/AP) Talk about cutting calories.

British health officials say the country needs to slow its obesity epidemic by slashing calories from its collective daily diet. How many? Five billion.

The U.K. has one of Europe's fattest populations - more than 60 percent of adults and one third of children aged 10-11 are overweight or obese. The average Briton eats about 10 percent more calories than necessary, according to a new report issued Thursday. The report aims to change diet and exercise habits enough so that the number of heavy Britons begins to fall by 2020.

"We are still too heavy as a nation," said Britain's chief medical officer, Sally Davies, at a press conference. "Not enough of us are getting it right." Davies said people need to be more honest with themselves about just how much food they're eating every day.

Obesity raises the risk of health problems including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Experts said treating fat patients costs the national health service 5.1 billion pounds (US $8 billion) every year.

Britain will continue to work with the food and beverage industry to reduce the amount of salt and fat in products and to post calorie content where possible, said Health Minister Andrew Lansley. The deal was previously slammed by health charities and leading medical organizations who argued the food and drink industry were dictating government policies.

The government will also introduce various initiatives to encourage people to exercise, including several linked to the London Olympics next year. Only about five percent of Britons currently meet the recommended guidelines to get 150 minutes of physical exercise every week.

What about a "fat tax"? The government would consider it - but would prefer a voluntary and cooperative approach, said Lansley.