Junk food could be off the menu in hospital canteens and overweight doctors and nurses encouraged to take part in weight loss competitions, under plans floated by Simon Stevens.

The NHS England chief executive told The Sun newspaper he wanted to introduce incentives for NHS staff to slim down and set a good example for patients.

The newspaper claimed around 700,000 of the NHS’s 1.3 million staff are either overweight or obese.

More gyms are to be built and NHS sites will become increasingly cycle friendly, while prizes such as pedometers will be on offer for staff who shed the pounds.

Mr Stevens said the rising obesity epidemic was bad both for people’s health and for the health service itself, and tackling obesity would reduce pressure on the nation’s finances and free up funding for new treatments.

Recent figures show almost three-quarters of people aged 45-74 in England are either overweight or obese.

Young adults are the only age group who have a normal average body mass index, according to the Health and Social Care Information Centre.

The NHS is facing a funding crisis and senior health figures have said it may need an extra £30bn by 2020 to maintain the current level of service provision.

Promising to tackle the obesity problem, Mr Stevens told The Sun: “It’s hard for the NHS to talk about how important this is if we don’t get our own act together. I think the NHS has got to take an example in helping our own staff and hopefully other employers will follow suit.

“A lot of the food in hospital canteens, not just for patients, but for staff, is chips and burgers. The NHS as an employer, for our own nurses and other staff, could we offer positive incentives? Yes, I think we could. And some hospitals have begun doing that.”

Looking to the future, he said that further progress in technology would keep patients out of hospital as people live longer, and he wants greater partnership between the NHS and social services.

He said: “What’s great about the NHS can’t excuse what needs to change about the NHS. That is the approach that we have got to take. We’ve got to support people doing great things, nurses, doctors, the frontline of healthcare. But we’ve also got to raise our game.”

He also called for thousands more GPs to be trained, and wants to give them more power to make decisions about how NHS money is spent.