AN EXPERT waging war on the worsening obesity epidemic has backed an Oxford initiative to curb a culture of temptation.

A campaign group is urging city businesses to help combat overconsumption of sugar, and its mission has now gained support from a leading researcher.

The number of obese people in Oxfordshire continues to rise. The latest figures show in 2015-16 there were 43,231 GP-registered patients in Oxfordshire who were deemed obese, up from 42,996 in 2014-15.

Obesity rates in Oxford's classrooms are also on the increase.

Latest statistics show in 2016-17, the percentage of obese children in Oxford of reception age (four or five) rose to 8.8 per cent, up from 8 per cent the previous year.

In that same time, obesity rates with Year 6 children (aged 10 or 11) in Oxford rose from 19.2 per cent to 20.2 per cent.

Oxford University nutrition scientist Susan Jebb, formerly the Government's advisor on obesity, has backed calls for businesses to champion healthier options.

Speaking exclusively to the Oxford Mail, to mark the start of National Obesity Week today, she said: "Obesity is still getting worse. The rate is getting a bit slower, but it's edging up further. We have not turned the corner yet and that is a real concern.

"We have got to push back against the sheer availability of high-fat and high-sugar things – they are all over the place.

"Businesses absolutely need to be looking at their workplace and saying 'how can we make being healthier more practical and more appealing?'

"They also shouldn't forget the importance of being active – in Oxford, businesses have got to ensure they have got places for people to park a bike and have a shower so people can cycle."

Good Food Oxford and Oxford City Council are currently consulting on a scheme called Sugar Smart Oxford, which encourages food outlets to make 80 per cent of drinks sugar-free and introduce a 10 pence tax on sugary drinks.

It also wants them to adopt a traffic-light sticker on menus to flag high-sugar options, and make healthier options such as tap water more visible.

Though Prof Jebb is not involved with the initiative, which was unveiled in November, she said slashing the prominence of sugary snacks was a positive step.

The expert, who sits on Public Health England's obesity programme board, added: "All these measures matter in terms of prevention.

"If you want a drink, if there's water around, some people will have water. If not you'll turn to a vending machine. If there's a good mix in there, you might chose a healthy option - but it's got to be available.

"I'm really concerned that so many shops, not even food shops, are selling sweets at the till. I don't think it's helpful to have it there if you're just buying a newspaper."

She said people should not have to experience the 'mental turmoil' of whether or not to resist unhealthy food.

Prof Jebb, professor of diet and population at the university, said: "For people to have any chance whatsoever, there needs to be a cultural shift. Workplaces [for example] revolve around food and drink. But does every meeting have to come with a biscuit?

"We wouldn't really miss it if it wasn't there."

Hannah Fenton, manager of Good Food Oxford, echoed her concerns about ubiquitous temptation.

She said: "Ultimately we need to change our tastebuds so we are not craving that sugar hit.

"However, it's all very well asking people to change and 'swap the pop', but it's rubbish if you go into a restaurant, canteen or public building and all you can see are sugary options, with no appealing healthy alternative.

"There are so many temptations everywhere."

Comments are still being sought on the Smart Sugar Oxford scheme via, with consultation ending next Monday.

Prof Jebb, who will lead a talk on Thursday entitled 'Is dieting worth it?', said tackling obesity was "absolutely fundamental to creating a more sustainable NHS".

* Keep reading the Oxford Mail this week for the expert's top dieting tips