Free medical treatments could be cut back in the next decade as the NHS struggles under the strain of Britons’ unhealthy lifestyles, a report has warned.
Penalties could also be imposed on people who refuse to change their behaviour through similar legislation to the smoking ban, according to predictions made by Friends Provident and the Future Foundation.
The report - Visions of Britain 2020 - maps out the potential impact of people eating unhealthily, exercising too little and drinking too much alcohol despite Government health campaigns.
Experts told the researchers they predicted treatments including IVF and fertility treatment, dental treatment, obesitysurgery and drugs, dementia treatment and complementary therapies will no longer be free in 2020.
A poll for the report found Suffolk residents had the unhealthiest lifestyles, exercising the least compared with 10 other regions in the UK.
They were also least likely to take notice of their calorie intake and the least likely to follow recommended alcohol guidelines, according to the survey of 1,000 consumers.
Dr Sarah Brewer, a GP and medical journalist who was consulted for the report, said: “We all know that we should follow a healthy low-fat diet, eat at least five (portions of fruit and vegetables) a day etc.
“But how many actually do anything about it? Unless an unhealthy diet and lifestyle is penalised in some way no-one will change.”
Trevor Matthews, chief executive officer of Friends Provident, said: “We all know that the NHS will probably change in years to come, but some of the behaviours identified in the report mean that these changes will be much harder on us than what we expect them to be.
“We all need to adopt healthier lifestyles or else risk being faced with penalties in the years ahead.”
Dr Peter Bradley, public health director for NHS Suffolk, said: “Statistics show that people in Suffolk are relatively healthy compared to those in other parts of the country.
“Life expectancy is higher than the England average and is increasing in both sexes and figures from 2003 to 2005 show deaths due to smoking, cancer, heart disease and stroke are lower than the England average.
“However, as with the rest of the nation, unhealthy lifestyles, such as smoking, obesity and binge drinking affect all ages and communities and are a problem.
“Working with organisations throughout the county, the Healthy Ambitions Suffolk scheme aims to make Suffolk the healthiest county in Britain by 2028.
“It encourages people to take more exercise, makes it easier for people to gain access to services to help them stop smoking and raises awareness of the dangers of binge drinking.”