OXORDSHIRE’S health chief has warned that more must be done to tackle obesity as the problem continues to pile more pressure on health services.

In his annual independent public health report, Dr Jonathan McWilliam said obesity was a ‘big inequalities issue’ and called for the county’s leaders to work together to get to the root cause.

More than half of adults in the county are now overweight or obese, with the issue affecting more men than women, unskilled workers more than skilled, and black and Asian ethnic groups more than white.

And while the obesity rate in Oxfordshire is lower than the national average, the associated risks such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer, are still placing a heavy burden on the county’s already beleaguered health services.

Nationally the problem is estimated to cost the NHS £6bn per year.

Highlighting obesity as just one of a ‘cocktail’ of major health factors affecting the county, Dr McWilliam said: “Everybody has a role to play in tackling obesity.

“What we must do is tackle it at three levels; the government is already playing its part by helping with food standards and controlling the amount of sugar and salt in foods.

“Locally we’re planning our communities better and the healthy new towns really point the way forwards in this.

“The third level is the individual level.

“We can all take a little bit more exercise all eat a little bit healthier.”

People now are around 20 per cent less active than in the 1960s, according to Dr McWilliam, with the problem expected to increase to 35 per cent by 2030, if current trends continue.

He said: “We are the first to need to make a conscious decision to build physical activity into our daily lives."

However Dr McWilliam said the focus should be more on education, rather than trying to dictate to people.

He said: “I think the important thing is to put the facts before people.

“It’s not about nannying - it’s about helping people make better choices.

“Once you change their beliefs you change their behaviour, once you change their behaviour you change their health and once you change their health you change the problem.”

While repeating his recommendations from last year, albeit 'more emphatically', Dr McWilliam said county leaders must continue to target those that would benefit the most to reduce the inequality issues, while also finding a way to build health issues squarely into the planning process - such as in the healthy new towns pilot schemes at Bicester and Barton.

Bicester has since introduced the 'blue lines' initiative which encourages residents to walk, jog or run along three 5k routes.