Prime Minister Urged to Improve Anti-obesity Strategy

Peter Russell

July 15, 2020

Health experts and charities have appealed to the Prime Minister to implement all outstanding recommendations of the Government's childhood obesity prevention plan.

The call comes amidst reports that Downing Street has ordered a strategy to encourage the nation to lose weight as part of planning for an expected second wave of COVID-19 this winter.

Several studies have linked obesity with a higher risk of dying from the coronavirus.

A recent analysis of more than 17 million NHS primary care records, published earlier this month in the journal Nature , found a 27% (1.18-1.36) increased mortality risk for those in obese class I, rising to a more than doubling of risk (1.99 to 2.58) for those in obese class III.

'More Action Needed' to Tackle Obesity

Last week, The Guardian reported that the Government was planning a so-called 'war on obesity' after Boris Johnson needed intensive care treatment for COVID-19, which the Prime Minister is said to have blamed on his weight.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, Consensus Action on Salt, Sugar & Health (CASSH), said that in the 4 years since the UK's Childhood Obesity Plan was published, "we've seen far more lengthy consultation processes than we've seen action, despite the clear benefit the measures would have on the health of children and adults alike".

 

'Stuck at the Traffic Lights'

It issued a 'scorecard', setting out reducing obesity achievements and areas where more work was needed.

Adopting a traffic light marking system, the Government scored 'green' for introducing the soft drinks industry levy, increasing understanding among healthcare professionals of the many causes of obesity, and funding programmes to boost physical activity.

However, it highlighted as 'red' a failure to implement a 9pm watershed on TV and other media for advertisements promoting junk food.

Other areas marked with a red light were:

  • Affordability of healthy food

  • Front of pack and 'out of home' nutrition labelling

  • Labelling, composition, and marketing of baby and infant foods

It was "evident that many of the recommendations aimed at both reducing inequalities and improving the lives of both children and adults living with obesity, such as calorie reduction, and taxation of unhealthy foods, have disappointingly been side lined and are effectively 'stuck at the traffic lights'", CASSH said on Wednesday.

Graham MacGregor, professor of cardiovascular medicine said: "If we can address obesity and care for the health of our population, we will become more resistant to life threatening diseases like COVID-19 in the future."

Mhairi Brown, policy and public affairs manager at Action on Sugar and Salt, said: "In order for the Prime Minister's new obesity plan to be effective and change the health trajectory of future generations, a robust and joined up policy package is required rather than a pick and mix of measures which allow loopholes to be exploited.

"With inequalities once again brought to the forefront as a result of COVID-19, Mr Johnson has a golden opportunity to ensure that lessons learned during the pandemic are translated to equitable access to health for all."

John Maingay from the British Heart Foundation said he was "concerned that the introduction of a 9pm watershed on junk food marketing is slipping through the net".

He added: "The Prime Minister must now seize the moment and fix this public health crisis by implementing every measure in the Childhood Obesity Plan, including ensuring that children are not being inundated with junk food advertising."

A Government spokesperson said: "We are determined to tackle the problem of obesity across all ages, reverse obesity rates and help everyone live healthier lives.

"We have already made huge progress towards our goal of halving childhood obesity by 2030 – cutting sugar from half of drinks on sale, funding exercise programmes in schools and working with councils to tackle child obesity locally through ground-breaking schemes."

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