The aggressive promotion of online betting has helped turn half the population into gamblers, a report warned last night.
Campaigners said the epidemic risked the health of a generation of young people.
Two thirds of men aged 25 to 34 gambled last year, nearly half of them online. For the nation as a whole the figure was 53 per cent, according to the NHS survey.
It painted a bleak picture of a country also struggling with obesity, heavy drinking and chronic diseases. Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS, said the betting giants had to start taking better care of their customers.
As many as two thirds of men aged 25 to 34 gambled last year, an NHS survey of 8,000 adults has found (stock image)
He added: ‘These new stats are a stark reminder of how common gambling is in our society, and how easy it is to become addicted, particularly with the aggressive push into online gambling.
‘It is high time that all these firms who spend many millions on marketing and advertising step up to the plate and take their responsibilities seriously.’
The Health Survey, which polled 8,000 adults and 2,000 children across England in 2018, provides a snapshot of health and wellbeing.
It is the first time comprehensive gambling figures have been included. They show that an alarming 15 per cent of men bet online.
Ian Hamilton, an addictions lecturer at the University of York, said: ‘This hasn’t happened by accident as we have so many more opportunities to gamble than we did a few years ago, from the lottery to online poker and bingo.’
Matt Zarb-Cousin, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, said: ‘Many people enjoy an occasional flutter on the Grand National or the lottery but no gambling is entirely risk-free.
NHS chief executive Simon Stevens, pictured, said that gambling companies had to take better care of their customers
‘We have seen an increase in popularity of the more dangerous and addictive forms of gambling, online and in fixed odds betting terminals. This means the quantity of harm gambling is causing on society has increased.
‘The younger you start the more likely you are to become addicted. Online gambling poses a huge risk to a whole generation of young men.’
The Daily Mail has campaigned for greater protection for customers, with a campaign called Stop the Gambling Predators.
Last year the Government tightened the rules around controversial ‘fixed-odds’ betting terminals in a bid to curb gambling problems.
But the number of problem gamblers remains stable at 3.6 per cent of the population.
There are between 250 and 650 gambling-related suicides in the UK every year, according to the charity Gambling with Lives.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘I have seen first hand the devastating impact of gambling-related harm.
‘We are determined to do whatever we can to tackle gambling-related harm and a Conservative majority government will introduce 12 new gambling clinics across the country.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock, pictured in Bassetlaw District General Hospital with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday two weeks ago, said the government is ‘determined’ to tackle gambling-related harm
The study also found that just 28 per cent of adults eat the recommended five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Some 26 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women were obese and 7 per cent of both sexes have been diagnosed with diabetes – up from 2 per cent in 1994.
The study also found that millions are drinking too much, especially in middle age. Ten per cent of men and five per cent of women said they drink alcohol nearly every day. Campaigners warned that bad habits were undermining the nation’s health.
Caroline Cerny of the Obesity Health Alliance said: ‘The consistently high rates of overweight and obesity is sadly reflective of the environment we live in – one that is flooded with unhealthy food and drinks and relentless marketing to tell us to buy and eat more and more.
‘But it doesn’t have to be like this. Twenty-five years ago, rates of adult obesity were almost half what they are today. The Government can play a vital role in shaping our food environment to help us all be healthy.
‘This is why we need the next government to urgently bring in new regulations to restrict the marketing of junk food and compel the food industry to make everyday food less sugary and calorific.’
Dr Giota Mitrou, director of research at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: ‘It is extremely worrying that around two in three adults in England are overweight or obese, nearly three in four aren’t eating their five a day and don’t do 30 minutes of physical activity a week, and one in three men drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol every week.
‘All of these put people at an increased risk of cancer and other serious conditions.’
The gambling percentage falls from 53 per cent of the population to 39 per cent when lottery sales are excluded.