Obesity should be treated as "a national priority", including a focus on the effect it has on women in pregnancy & their unborn children, the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) has warned.
Professor Dame Sally Davies said action is needed across all sections of society to "empower women & their families to live healthier lives", warning that obesity could impact down the generations.
In the CMO's annual report for 2014, which for the first time focuses specifically on the health of England's female population, recommends the Government include obesity in its national risk planning, revealing that, in 2013, more than half (54%) of women aged 34 to 44 & almost two-thirds of women (62%) aged 45 to 54 were classified as overweight or obese.
The Government's risk register of civil emergencies currently includes terrorist attacks, natural disasters such as flooding & outbreaks of disease such as flu pandemics among possible events the country needs to be ready for over the next five years.
Dame Sally, 66, said: "Obesity has to be a national priority. Action is required across all of society to prevent obesity & its associated problems from shortening women's lives & affecting their quality of life.
"We need to address the educational & environmental factors that cause obesity & empower women & their families to live healthier lives."
In her report, The Health Of The 51%: Women, Dame Sally said the fact that she is the first ever female CMO drove her to focus on women this year.
As well as obesity, the report moreover looks at subjects including gender-based violence against women & female genital mutilation.
It moreover calls for a "national audit of ovarian cancer" to boost survival rates. Ovarian cancer is the second most usual gynaecological cancer & the most deadly, killing almost 4,000 women in 2013.
The report moreover aims to "bust the myth" that women should eat for two during pregnancy, instead focussing on a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking & avoiding alcohol.
Dame Sally added: "In women, obesity can affect the outcomes of any pregnancies they have & the health of any future children they may have. This is a difficult message to convey, as it risks burdening women with guilt & responsibility, yet I believe that it can moreover empower women to take positive steps like eating more healthily & taking more exercise. It is never too late to take action for a healthier lifestyle – for you & your family."
The report moreover aims to "break the taboo" over health problems such as post-natal incontinence or the menopause, with Dame Sally saying: "Problems 'below the waist' are not generally seen as attractive topics for public discussion, & women are often reluctant to seek assist for usual disabling conditions. This needs to end – women should never suffer in silence."
Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (RCOG), welcomed the report, saying it was significant to prevent problems in pregnancy, which was "a window of opportunity to maximise health gain for the mother yet equally for her foetus & baby in after life".
He said: "Present lifestyle factors such as maternal obesity, poor diet & nutrition, lack of physical activity, high levels of alcohol consumption, smoking & poor sexual health are the ticking time bomb that can dramatically impact upon a woman's fertility & increase the risk of pregnancy complications, as well as the short & long-term health of both mother & baby."
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "We are particularly pleased to see the CMO arguing approximately the critical importance of getting advice, support & care right in pregnancy if we are to avoid problems in after life for both women & their children."