New obesity strategy could be lightweight and a “waste of money”

The government is expected to announce a new strategy to help people lose weight next week, but there are fears that the focus will be on personal responsibility rather than policies that make healthy living and eating easy.

A group of eight directors of public health in the North West this week wrote to the prime minister suggesting that “a national campaign encouraging weight loss would be entirely ineffective and a waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“We welcome the news of a national campaign that encourages and supports individuals to lose weight,” they wrote. “We strongly believe that what is of greater importance however, is to ensure that we take steps to create an environment that support individuals to make changes in their behaviour, making it easy for people to make the healthy choice.”

The directors suggested the government’s reported approach – a national campaign to encourage and support people to lose weight – would merely address the symptoms and ignore the causes of obesity.

They called on the government to pay particular attention to the marketing of unhealthy food. The directors said any advertisements for a national healthy living campaign run by the government would be “dwarfed” by junk food marketing.

Health campaigners raised similar concerns last week. In an open letter to Boris Johnson signed by 49 health charities, researchers and academics, the prime minister was urged to implement a ban on junk food adverts before the 9pm watershed alongside other commitments set out in previous obesity plans.

Meanwhile, writing for The Independent this week, Dr Alexis Paton, a lecturer in social epidemiology and the sociology of health at Aston University, and chair of the committee on ethical issues in medicine at the Royal College of Physicians, said the government’s decision to take a “personal responsibility” approach to handling health (in the pandemic and beyond) is “not the show of its good faith in the British people that it portrays it to be. It is a cop-out on its own mandated responsibilities to protect us.”

The government’s new war on obesity, which could be launched as soon as Monday, is being personally driven by the prime minister who reportedly attributed his brush with death due to Covid-19 to his weight.

Obesity-related conditions seem to worsen the effect of Covid-19; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that people with heart disease and diabetes are at higher risk of Covid-19 complications.

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