New obesity guidance from the Government has been launched after evidence suggests there is a link between obesity and adverse outcomes from Covid-19.

The obesity strategy aims to help people take control of their own future by losing weight, getting active and adopting a healthier lifestyle.

A third of the UK population is currently classed as obese or overweight and it disproportionately affects the poorest groups increasing the risk of other diseases including type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease in later years. These illnesses also cost the NHS £6 billion a year.

Evidence suggests that the risk posed by being overweight or living with obesity to people with Covid-19 is relatively high and this relationship cannot be explained by factors such as age, sex or race, or other diseases.

A recent poll from the Obesity Health Alliance found that there was strong support for a range of policies designed to shape a healthier food environment including reducing sugar from everyday foods and not showing adverts for junk food before 9pm on TV and online.

Of those polled the majority also supported restrictions on shops promoting unhealthy foods in prominent areas such as checkouts and shop entrances and promotional offers such as buy-one-get-one free.

The government measures include:

  • Banning 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
  • Ending ‘buy one get one free’ promotions on HFSS items and banning these items being placed in prominent locations in stores, such as at checkouts and entrances, and online
  • New laws will require large restaurants, cafes and takeaways with more than 250 employees to add calorie labels to the food they sell.

Primary care staff can become healthy weight coaches

There will also be a new consultation on plans to provide calorie labelling on alcohol, which 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.

From next year doctors will also be offered incentives to ensure people living with obesity are given support for weight loss and primary care staff will also have the opportunity to become ‘healthy weight coaches’ though training delivered by Public Health England. Separately, GPs will also be encouraged to prescribe exercise and more social activities to help people keep fit.

Dr Alison Tedstone, Chief Nutritionist at PHE: “These plans are ambitious and rightly so. Tackling obesity will help prevent serious illness and save lives. The main reason we put on weight is because of what we eat and drink, but being more active is important too. Making healthier choices easier and fairer for everyone, and ensuring the right support is there for those who need it, is critical in tackling obesity.”

Needs to address genetic, biological and social factors of obesity

The Royal College of Physicians wrote to the government last week urging them to address genetic, biological and social factors in the guidance otherwise it won’t have the ambition needed to improve the health of the population.

The Obesity Health Alliance, of which it is a member, has laid out 10 areas which need urgent attention in the government's new plan.

It added that it was key that any plans to address the obesity crisis form part of a wider strategy to address health inequalities as the Marmot review highlighted how improvements to life expectancy have stalled and the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas has grown.

It added: "Healthcare professionals need the time to see patients and talk to them about all the things that might affect their health, but they also need functioning public health support in communities, with thriving local facilities to encourage people to learn more and do more about being active and eating well."