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Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his dog Dilyn

Government unveils new obesity strategy following COIVD-19 'wake-up call'

The UK Government has unveiled a new obesity strategy as it urges the country to lose weight.

Obesity has long been an issue in the UK and now, a campaign is being launched to help people lose weight, get active and eat better after what the government has described as a 'wake-up call' from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It is thought that obesity-related illnesses usually cost the National Health Service (NHS) around £6 billion a year, and there is also evidence that those who are obese face a higher risk from the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

Data has shown that the higher a person's body mass index (BMI) is, the higher the risk they face from serious illness or death from COVID-19. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients in intensive care units with the virus have been morbidly obese and according to new Public Health England figures, people who are clinically obese are 40% more likely to die of COVID-19.

So, how significant are England's weight problems?

  • 63% of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity
  • 1 in 3 children leave primary school either overweight or obese
  • Obesity-related illnesses cost the NHS around £6 billion a year
  • Less than half of children and young people in England meet the current government physical activity guidelines
  • The prevalence of obesity in year 6 children in England is twice as prevalent in the most deprived areas than the least deprived areas.
  • Obesity was a factor is 876,000 hospital admissions in England last year, an increase of 23% from the previous year of data.

The Coronavirus pandemic appears to have significantly increased the government's urgency to tackle obesity in England, and it is believed that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's own experience of COVID-19 may have influenced the government's new strategy.

The strategy, announced today, is set to see a range of measures put into practice;

  • TV and online adverts for foods high in fat, sugar and salt are set to banned before 9pm
  • 'Buy one get one free' deals on unhealthy foods high in salt, sugar and fat are also set to get the axe under new legislation
  • Large restaurants, cafes and takeaway with more than 250 employees will have to add calorie labels to the food they sell under new laws, with research showing an increase in people eating out in recent years.
  • A consultation is to be launched over plans to provide calorie labelling on alcohol, with alcohol consumption estimated to account for nearly 10% of the calorie intake of those who drink.
  • A consultation will be launched into the current 'traffic light' nutrition labelling system
  • NHS weight management services are set to be expanded, with more self-care apps and online tools for people with obesity-related conditions.

Much of the government's messaging for the new strategy is about protecting the NHS and protecting ourselves from the COVID-19 Coronavirus. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said;

"Losing weight is hard but with some small changes we can all feel fitter and healthier.

"If we all do our bit, we can reduce our health risks and protect ourselves against coronavirus – as well as taking pressure off the NHS."

The measures announced are significant and have been welcomed by many health leaders and also chef and healthy food campaigner Jamie Oliver. The announcements have been seen by many as long overdue, with obesity having been a major health problem in the UK for years.

Some have though raised concerns about the affordability of eating healthily - NHS doctor and health campaigner Dr Sonia Adesara, following an interview on Good Morning Britain has said on Twitter that "For the poorest 10% of households, following NHS ‘eat well’ guidelines costs 75% of their disposable income", calling for tax on unhealthy foods to subsidise fruit and vegetables.

While the government's plans have been welcomed by Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, they've been criticised by Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum as 'not enough'. Hospitality leaders have criticised the timing for plans to make large cafes and restaurants display calorie information, as they attempt to recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the Advertising Association has said plans to restrict junk food advertising are 'extreme' and 'unnecessary'.

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