The next government must address the UK’s obesity epidemic or risk “plunging the NHS into irreversible financial trouble”, the Obesity Health Alliance has warned.

Launching its 10-point policy manifesto, the Alliance - which represents more than 40 leading health charities, campaign groups and medical royal colleges - stressed that the number of overweight and obese children is at its highest ever level which is costing the NHS at least £5.1 billion a year.

This cost, it says, could pay for 116,000 heart transplants or nearly 730,000 hip replacements.

In order to tackle the current obesity epidemic, the OHA is calling on the next government to reduce sugar, saturated fat and salt in everyday foods, close the existing loopholes in junk food marketing regulations both online and offline, and fully implement and evaluate the Soft Drinks Industry Levy.

“Without strong measures to tackle obesity we are condemning our NHS to failure,” said Professor John Wass from the Royal College of Physicians. The next government “simply can’t afford to ignore the spiralling obesity epidemic.”

Caroline Cerny, Alliance Lead, also noted that true economic cost to wider society could be as much as £27 billion annually. “It makes not only moral sense to combat obesity, but clear economic sense too. As our waistlines continue to increase, so do the chances of developing devastating diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and liver disease plus associated mental health problems.”

Based on current trends, more than one in five children are overweight or obese in their first year of primary school rising to over one in three by the time they leave, while two-thirds of adults in the UK are carrying too much weight. It is expected that half of all children will be obese or overweight by 2020.

The OHA’s manifesto calls for funding for child measurement weight management programmes and freedom for local authorities to take action on obesity in their areas. Also, all schools should serve healthy meals and teach children how to cook, while health and social care professionals should be fully trained in addressing obesity.