Some people have made the valid point that with the growing numbers of diabetes cases and other sometimes weight-related related, no one has previously suggested an obesity strategy. But now we have one and we keep hearing that phrase: ‘protect the NHS’.
First we had lockdown, where we stayed at home to ‘protect the NHS’. We now have masks to ‘protect the NHS’, we are told to have our flu jabs ‘to protect the NHS’ and now we all have to lose 5lbs to ‘protect the NHS’.
I’m not sure the NHS should be the excuse given for all this (what some people would call state interference) state direction and regulation, but I am happy to accept that we should all try to be as healthy and as fit as we possibly can. Anyway, here is how the government plans to tackle obesity.
Almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or living with obesity – and 1 in 3 children leave primary school overweight or obese, with obesity-related illnesses costing the NHS £6 billion a year. We were not told this just before Christmas, or earlier in the year, but we are now, due to an increased risk from COVID-19. The government uses phrases like ‘time bomb’.
Living with excess weight puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19, with risk growing substantially as body mass index (BMI) increases. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients with COVID-19 in intensive care units have been morbidly obese, compared with 2.9% of the general population, as the Prime Minister demonstrated.
The focus is now less on childhood obesity and more on adult obesity.
This plan is being launched alongside an exciting new ‘Better Health’ campaign, led by Public Health England (PHE), which will call on people to embrace a healthier lifestyle and to lose weight if they need to, supported by a range of evidence-based tools and apps providing advice on how to reduce our waistlines.
Without seeing the apps, I can honestly say the way to do it is to eat less.
The measures include:
- banning unhealthy food adverts – new laws will ban the advertising of food high in fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) on television and online before 9pm when children are most likely to see them. Ahead of this, the government will also hold a new short consultation on whether the ban on online adverts for HFSS, should apply at all times of day. This makes more sense as most people do not even watch TV these days, they watch online/on catchup.
- ending ‘buy one, get one free’ (BOGOF) promotions – new legislation will restrict the promotion of foods high in fat, sugar, such as ‘buy one get one free’ offers. There will also be a ban on these items being placed in prominent locations in stores, such as at checkouts and entrances, and online. Shops will be encouraged to promote healthier choices and offer more discounts on food like fruit and vegetables.
- calorie labelling – new laws will require large restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees (not sure I have ever encountered a restaurant with over 250 employees unless we are talking chains) to add calorie labels to the food they sell. Research shows eating out is becoming more common, particularly among families, with 75% of people visiting a restaurant, fast food eatery or getting a takeaway in the past week, compared to 69% in 2010. However, there is often a lack of information about the calorie content of these items and research suggests people consume around 200 more calories a day if they eat out compared to food prepared at home.
- alcohol calorie labelling – a new consultation will be launched before the end of the year on plans to provide calorie labelling on alcohol. Alcohol consumption has been estimated to account for nearly 10% of the calorie intake of those who drink, with around 3.4 million adults consuming an additional days’ worth of calories each week – totalling an additional two months of food each year. But research shows the majority of the public (80%) is unaware of the calorie content of common drinks and many typically underestimate the true content. It is hoped alcohol labelling could lead to a reduction in consumption, improving people’s health and reducing their waistline
- expanding NHS services – weight management services will be expanded so more people get the support they need to lose weight. This will include more self-care apps and online tools for people with obesity-related conditions and accelerating the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme. From next year doctors will be offered incentives to ensure people living with obesity is given support for weight loss and primary care staff will also have the opportunity to become ‘healthy weight coaches’ though training delivered by PHE. Separately, GPs will also be encouraged to prescribe exercise and more social activities to help people keep fit.
- front-of-pack nutritional labelling – we will launch a consultation to gather views and evidence on our current ‘traffic light’ labelling system to learn more about how this is being used by consumers and industry, compared to international examples. Our ‘traffic light’ scheme is popular, with 90% of consumers agreeing it helps them make informed decisions when purchasing food. Research shows that people who look at front of pack nutritional labelling are shown to have healthier shopping baskets, fewer calories, less sugar, fat and salt content and higher fibre content.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 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.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
Everyone knows how hard losing weight can be so we are taking bold action to help everyone who needs it. When you’re shopping for your family or out with friends, it’s only fair that you are given the right information about the food you’re eating to help people to make good decisions.
To help support people we need to reduce unhelpful influences like promotions and adverts that affect what you buy and what you eat. Taken together, supported by an inspiring campaign and new smart tools, will get the country eating healthily and losing the pounds.
We know obesity increases the risk of serious illness and death from coronavirus – so it’s vital we take action on obesity to protect the NHS and improve our nation’s health.
IT will be interesting to hear how local businesses and individuals plan to play their part …